Foreign Ministers Discuss Next Steps In Libya

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined European and Arab foreign ministers in London Tuesday for a conference to discuss the future of Libya. The ministers agreed that it was time for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to step down, but told reporters they had not discussed arming his opponents if he fails to do so.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

I'm Melissa Block.

And we begin this hour in London, where there was a major conference today. The focus: Libya. Specifically, what happens next. All the members of the coalition behind the military operation in Libya were there, but there were also many other countries all hoping to pile pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to leave.

Here's NPR's Philip Reeves in London.

PHILIP REEVES: They gathered in London on a somber, damp day to discuss the fate of a desert nation 2,000 miles away. Eleven days have elapsed since the first air strike against Libya. The question today was: What next? Britain's prime minister, David Cameron, opening proceedings with a graphic account of Gadhafi's latest attacks on the city of Misrata.

Mr. DAVID CAMERON (Prime Minister, Great Britain): I have had reports this morning that the city is under attack from both land and from the sea. Gadhafi is using snipers to shoot people down and let them bleed to death in the street. He's cut off food, water and electricity to starve people into submission.

REEVES: The conference was an attempt to advertise the coalition's unity and strength. There's been tension within coalition ranks in recent days, especially over the decision to transfer overall command to NATO. Foreign ministers from some 37 countries attended today. The coalition considers support from the Arab world to be crucial. Seven Arab nations were represented, along with the Arab League.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified Man: Gadhafi is a killer.

CROWD: Gadhafi is a killer.

Unidentified Man: Gadhafi is a murderer.

REEVES: Delegates were welcomed by a small crowd of Libyans gathered on London streets to thank them for moving against Gadhafi. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the conference that military measures against Gadhafi were not enough.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): All of us have to continue to pressure on and deepen the isolation of the Gadhafi regime. This includes a unified front of political and diplomatic pressure that makes clear to Gadhafi he must go.

REEVES: The conference agreed to set up what it called a contact group to work with Libya's rebel opposition groups on a transition to a new form of government after Gadhafi goes. Better days lie ahead for Libya, said Cameron. Although, getting there will be tough.

Mr. CAMERON: We should be clear about the scale of the challenge. It will mean looking afresh at our whole engagement with Libya and the wider region.

REEVES: There have been concerns within the international community about exactly who are the rebels. Today, several of them turned up to allay these fears. They were officials from Libya's opposition body, the Interim National Council. They brought a statement outlining their vision for Libya's future after Gadhafi.

Guma El-Gamaty is the council's U.K. coordinator.

Mr. GUMA EL-GAMATY (U.K. Coordinator, Interim National Council): The most important thing about this vision is that it's a vision for a Libya which is constitutional, democratic, civil country and the rule of law - the rule of law is paramount and pluralism, separation of powers and freedom of thought and speech and expression.

REEVES: This vision depends on Gadhafi leaving. So far, it's not clear if he will be forced out. Key members of the coalition have indicated they might be willing to allow Gadhafi to go into exile without facing an international criminal court. El-Gamaty says the Libyan opposition would prefer that not to happen.

Mr. EL-GAMATY: The ideal is a fair trial within Libya. Now, he's also facing a potential trial by the International Criminal Court. That is the ideal because these crimes should not go unpunished.

REEVES: Richard Dalton, former British ambassador to Libya, says the conference went well.

Mr. RICHARD DALTON (Former British Ambassador to Libya): It's been a great success in the good participation, including key international organizations like the Arab League.

REEVES: But Dalton says there's a long way to go.

Mr. DALTON: There are still a number of potential outcomes. I mean, if it's worse, there could be a breakdown of the Libyan state. There could even be a stalemate in which nobody has a clear military advantage. And then there's the more hopeful scenario of increasing successes for the opposition, leading to either a military victory or a negotiated outcome.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

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