World Waits For Gadhafi's Regime To Collapse

More than 30 countries belong to the Contact Group on Libya, and they're trying to find a way to end Moammar Gadhafi's hold on power. Oliver Miles, who served as the British Ambassador to Libya in the 1980s, tells Steve Inskeep that there's no evidence that the collapse of Gadhafi's regime is imminent.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Leon Panetta also spoke about the conflict in Libya. He said military action and sanctions are putting tremendous pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. What we don't know is when, how or if that pressure pays off.

Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya, is here to discuss the future of that country.

Ambassador, welcome back to the program.

Mr. OLIVER MILES (Former British Ambassador to Libya): Thank you.

INSKEEP: Diplomats and officials - actually, in quite a few places - are talking as though Gadhafi's regime is about to collapse. Does any evidence point to that?

Mr. MILES: Not to immediate collapse. I think that Mr. Panetta got it right. I was thinking of the right analogy. It's like pulling a cork out of a bottle. You pull and you pull and you pull, and then suddenly it comes. And nobody knows when it's going to come.

INSKEEP: Is there any sign of process being made, though, in the last month or two?

Mr. MILES: Yes, there is. If you were looking at it from Gadhafi's point of view, it's quite difficult to find any good news. But if you're looking at it from the point of view of the rebels, there's quite a lot of good news. For example, we just had this compact group meeting in Abu Dhabi...

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MILES: ...which is not very exciting in itself. But I noticed that for the first time, Egypt and South Africa were taking part in the talks.

Well, Egypt, of course, is a neighbor of Libya and potentially a very important player. South Africa is also an important player, because President Zuma has been to Libya twice since these latest events started. And on the second visit, I think it's pretty clear that what he was trying to do was to offer Gadhafi some kind of dignified way of stepping down.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask you, ambassador, as someone who was a diplomat in Libya, who has done business in Libya in more recent years, who has met Gadhafi and has had to spend time, I'm sure, trying to calculate what is on Gadhafi's mind and how he might respond to different things, how do you think he's likely to respond to the pressure that's on him now?

Mr. MILES: Well, he's tough. He's used to pressure. He's been under pressure for a very long time. There have been stories recently that he's been sleeping in hospitals to avoid being bombed. Well, the fact is, nobody knows where he's been sleeping for the last 40 years. He's been under threat of assassination, most notably in the time of President Reagan when the American forces tried to kill him. But on many other occasions, other enemies have been having a go at him. So he's quite used to this kind of pressure, and some people say he enjoys it.

But everybody has a limit. He's not a superman, and in the end, I think he'll have to go.

INSKEEP: Do you think he's in touch with reality?

Mr. MILES: Good question. We're all in touch with reality, to a certain extent. But on both sides, I must say - both the rebel side and the government side -there's an element of make-believe. I think there's a lot of wishful thinking. If you read some of the statements by our ministers and American spokesmen and so on, you'd think that he's simply about to collapse. I don't think that's correct, necessarily.

And from his side, I guess he believes he can hold out.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about another area where wishful thinking might be a danger. There was, at the beginning of the uprising in Libya, fear of chaos when Gadhafi goes, that there's no other institution that could be credible and that could run the government, that you could end up with an Islamist or extremist government. Has the delay in getting rid of Gadhafi allowed time for a serious alternative to Gadhafi to begin to come together?

Mr. MILES: Yes, I think it has, certainly, to begin to come together. There's something called the Transitional National Council, which is saying all the right things and trying to do some of the right things. They also say that they're quite unable to carry the burdens which are being placed on them. They're being treated as though they were a government, and they simply don't have the means to be a government. In particular, they don't have the money, because there's a paradox here.

Libya's, of course, a very wealthy country in terms of oil money, but at present, the oil industry is at a standstill, almost, and nearly all the money is either in the hands of Gadhafi - maybe up to the tune of about $20 billion or so - and maybe over $100 billion of other assets, which are frozen outside Libya and nobody had access to them, including the Libyan Transitional National Council.

INSKEEP: You just said $20 billion estimated in the hands of Moammar Gadhafi. If we presume that he can keep up the war as long as he can continue paying his troops, how much war can you buy with $20 billion in Libya?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MILES: I don't think money is going to be the constraint. More to the point, some of his supporters have been defecting. It's very difficult to say how significant that is, because to go back to my cork in the bottle, we're not going to know the pops until it pops. He's also got a problem over supplies into the area where he's - his stronghold in Tripoli. So, it's not the money that's going to stop him. It's other factors.

INSKEEP: Ambassador, always a pleasure to speak with you.

Mr. MILES: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Oliver Miles served as British ambassador to Libya in the 1980s, and has since done business in the country.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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