3:56pm

Thu July 14, 2011
World

U.S., Allies Optimistic Gadhafi's 'Days Are Numbered'

Originally published on Thu July 14, 2011 10:19 pm

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top diplomats are gathering in Istanbul this week to talk about Libya amid fresh optimism that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi may be looking for a way out.

French officials have said that the Gadhafi regime is "sending messengers everywhere" to explore ways to end the conflict. U.S. officials have suggested that his regime is suffering from low morale and is running out of supplies.

Before setting off to Istanbul, Clinton told reporters that she has seen "contradictory signals" from Gadhafi's camp.

"He has yet to meet the redlines that are set by the international community to cease violence against his people, withdraw his forces, and step down from power," she said alongside her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov Wednesday. "Neither of us can predict to you the exact day or hour that Gadhafi will leave power; we do understand and agree that his days are numbered."

Dartmouth College professor Dirk Vandewalle says he has his doubts about the optimistic chatter in diplomatic circles.

"I'm reasonably skeptical because we heard those kinds of reports two months ago already," Vandewalle says. "What we have seen so far gives no indication that the [Libyan] government is running out of steam, so to speak."

Like many Libya watchers, Vandewalle says he is surprised that it has taken this long to force Gadhafi from power. In the long run, he says he's sure Gadhafi will run out of cash and support, but the Libyan leader has proven to be more resilient than anyone expected.

"This could take a little while," he says. "And, meanwhile, what we see is that from a military point of view, the situation remains very much stalemated, with villages changing hands literally almost by the hour."

The Dartmouth professor, who is on his way to Benghazi to help the rebel government prepare for the day after Gadhafi, says everyone underestimated the Libyan leader's staying power.

The president of the American Libyan Council, former journalist Fadel Lamen, is not surprised. He says Gadhafi is playing the international community once again.

"He's just telling them, 'Hey, we can talk about it, let's talk about it,' but he's not committing to anything in writing," he says. "He's not committing to anything that is tangible, that can be discussed."

Lamen says there is a growing sense of fatigue in Washington and "self-made optimism" in Europe. The morale of Gadafi's loyalists may be running low, he says, but "there are people still fighting for him."

Lamen points to troubles with the rebel government saying "the opposition has not come up with a political solution that they can communicate ... to the people around Gadhafi looking for a way out."

He says he is worried that as this drags on, the rebels could lose support and more cracks could emerge among big international players. And there is another complicating factor, Vandewalle says: More and more countries are trying their hand at diplomacy, and despite this "multiplicity of conversations," it is not clear which country or organization has the credibility to find a political solution or whether the Gadhafi government is really willing to consider these proposals.

So, he sees a stalemate on the diplomatic front as well.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on her way to Turkey. She'll be there for meetings about Libya. Her trip coincides with a round of fresh optimism that Moammar Gadhafi may be looking for a way out.

NPR's Michele Keleman reports on how the U.S. and others are trying to prepare for a post-Gadhafi Libya.

MICHELE KELEMAN: Before setting off to Istanbul, Secretary Clinton was asked whether the U.S. was on the same page with partners like France. French officials have said that the Gadhafi regime is sending messengers everywhere to explore ways to end the conflict. Secretary Clinton put it this way...

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): We are still getting contradictory signals from Colonel Gadhafi's camp. He has yet to meet the redlines that are set by the international community to cease violence against his people, withdraw his forces, and step down from power.

KELEMAN: U.S. officials have suggested, though, that his regime may be suffering from low morale and may be running out of supplies. Secretary Clinton is planning to compare notes with other diplomats at the meeting in Turkey, as she did yesterday at the State Department with her Russian counterpart.

Secretary CLINTON: So, although neither of us can predict to you the exact day or hour that Gadhafi will leave power, we do understand and agree that his days are numbered.

KELEMAN: But Dartmouth College professor Dirk Vandewalle has his doubts about this optimistic chatter.

Professor DIRK VANDEWALLE (Dartmouth College): We heard those kinds of reports two months ago already. And what we've seen so far really gives no indication that the government is running out of steam, so to speak.

KELEMAN: Vandewalle says like many Libya watchers, he's been surprised that it has taken this long to force Gadhafi from power. In the long run, he says he's sure Gadhafi will run out of cash and support, but the Libyan leader has proven to be more resilient than anyone expected.

Prof. VANDEWALLE: This is not a government that is about to run out of resources, so this could take a little while. And, meanwhile, what we see is that from a military point of view, the situation remains very much stalemated, with villages changing hands literally almost by the hour.

KELEMAN: The Dartmouth professor, who is on his way to Benghazi to help the rebel government prepare for the day after Gadhafi, says everyone underestimated the Libyan leader's staying power. Fadel Lamen is not surprised. He's a journalist who now runs the American Libyan Council. He says Gadhafi is, once again, playing the international community.

Mr. FADEL LAMEN (American Libyan Council): He's just telling them that, hey, we can talk about it, let's talk about it, let's talk about it, but he's not committing to anything in writing. He's not committing to anything that is tangible, that can be discussed.

KELEMAN: Lamen says there is a growing sense of fatigue in Washington and what he calls self-made optimism by allies in Europe. Gadafi's regime may be running out of gas and food, Lamen says, but it is not over yet.

Mr. LAMEN: Yeah, the morale is running low, but there are people still fighting for him. And I think there is a problem with what the opposition is doing, too. I think the problem is the opposition has not come up with a political solution that they can communicate to - not to Gadhafi himself, but to Gadhafi's loyalists or the people who are still with him, looking for a way out.

KELEMAN: He's worried that as this drags on, the rebels could lose support and more and more cracks could emerge among big international players. Dirk Vandewalle says there are more and more players sending envoys to Libya.

Professor VANDEWALLE: And it makes it much more difficult, I think, because there is this multiplicity of conversation that has taken place and it's not quite clear which one of these partners really have the credibility at this particular point in time to really carry this over or alternatively whether the Gadhafi government in any way is really willing to consider any of these proposals.

KELEMAN: So, like the military situation, he says, the diplomacy is at a stalemate, despite all the optimistic talk in recent days.

Michele Keleman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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