Paris calls on rebels to negotiate with regime
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France has denied claims that it has been in negotiations with Tripoli, while saying the time has come for the rebels to sit down and talk with the Gaddafi regime. The French parliament is due to vote on continued intervention in Libya on Tuesday.
The debate and vote in the French National Assembly is a formality: under French constitutional rules, parliament must formally reconsider any military intervention that lasts more than four months.
But the vote – which is widely expected to favour continued intervention – comes at a time when Paris is losing patience with the pace of the conflict.
On Sunday, Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said rebels should not wait for Gaddafi’s defeat and said France’s objective was that he must leave power “eventually”.
“We have ... asked them to speak to each other,” Longuet told BFM TV on Sunday. “We have been able to stem the tide against the rebels and now we want them to speak to each other.
“And we will stop the bombing when the Libyans agree to start speaking with each other and when the soldiers, on both sides, are back in their barracks.”
Longuet added that four months of military intervention that had created a stalemate proved that “violence is not the solution.”
“This is a huge transformation,” said FRANCE 24’s International Affairs Editor Melissa Bell. “From the beginning it was always a question of Gaddafi leaving.”
The change, she said, reflected a role reversal between the European powers who were initially keen to hammer Gaddafi from the outset, and the Americans, who were initially much more cautious.
She said: “The French were so gung-ho at the beginning, and are more battle weary now and realise that the military solution is not as easy as they imagined.”
Immediately after Longuet announced that it was time to negotiate with Gaddafi, the US responded that it stood firm in its belief Gaddafi must go.
“The Libyan people will be the ones to decide how this transition takes place, but we stand firm in our belief that Gaddafi cannot remain in power,” the US State Department said in a statement.
France denies 'negotiations' with Tripoli
On Monday, Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi’s son and heir apparent, said in a newspaper interview that the administration in Tripoli was already in talks with Paris.
The Algerian El Khabar newspaper quoted him saying: “The truth is that we are negotiating with France and not with the rebels.”
Saif al-Islam went on to say that French diplomats claimed they had created the Transitional National Government (TNC) which is based in Benghazi, eastern Libya.
He said that France had told him: “When we reach an agreement with you (Tripoli), we will force the TNC to cease fire.”
On Monday, the French foreign ministry denied it was in talks with Tripoli. “There are no direct negotiations between France and the Gaddafi regime, but we pass messages through the rebel council (TNC) and our allies,” a ministry spokesman said.
Frustration with slow progress
The cost of intervention has added to French Frustrations. Sitting at 160 million euros, the military mission is costing France a million euros a day.
Paris was also forced into an embarrassing u-turn after it admitted supplying arms to the rebels, contrary to UN resolution 1970 governing the conduct and purpose of the intervention. France has since said there would be no more weapons drops.
And Gaddafi stubbornly continues to hold on to his power base around capital Tripoli.
He has weathered NATO strikes, international sanctions and the defections of senior members of his government and armed forces to the opposition TNC.
Further strains are likely to surface this week when the “contact group”, which brings together the countries allied against Gaddafi, gathers in Istanbul on Friday.
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