By David Gollust
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday brushed aside a personal appeal from Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi for an end to the NATO air campaign in support of Libyan rebels. Clinton, who discussed the Libyan crisis with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Fratini, said Mr. Gadhafi must yield power and leave the country.
Clinton is dismissing an unusual personal appeal from the Libyan leader to President Barack Obama for NATO to halt its air operations, and reaffirming that an end to the conflict requires Mr. Gadhafi’s departure from power.
In the letter, conveyed to the U.S. government Wednesday, Mr. Gadhafi accuses NATO of waging an “unjust” war against Libya, and that the conflict in the country should be left for Libyans to resolve within the framework of the African Union.
In a text of the rambling note made available to reporters, Mr. Gadhafi repeats charges that al-Qaida is behind the rebellion against him.
The Libyan leader refers to Mr. Obama, the first African-American U.S. president, as a son of Africa and says despite the NATO intervention, he hopes Mr. Obama wins another term in office.
Secretary Clinton addressed the Libyan message at a joint press event with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Fratini.
“I think that Mr. Gadhafi knows what he must do. There needs to be a cease-fire. His forces need to withdraw from the cities that they have forcibly taken at great violence and human cost. There needs to be a decision made about his departure from power, and as the foreign minister said, his departure from Libya,” she said.
Mr. Fratini, whose government has joined France and Qatar in recognizing Libya’s opposition Transitional National Council as the country’s legitimate government, declined under questioning to publicly call on the United States to do the same.
But he welcomed this week’s dispatch of a U.S. diplomat, Chris Stevens, to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, which she suggested will put the Obama administration in a better position to decide the issue of recognition.
“I know perfectly that the United States has to know more about this group in Benghazi. Maybe Italy did so because we know for a longer time, from inside the country, who they (the rebels) are, how the situation is. So it’s absolutely necessary for these people to be a bit (more) well-known to the public opinion of the rest of the world, to offer the opportunities and the elements that are necessary to take a decision like the one Italy has taken,” he said.
Amid rebel complaints that the air campaign has lagged since the United States ceded the lead role in operations to NATO partners a week ago, Clinton said the allies have performed well given shifting tactics by pro-Gadhafi forces.
“We do know it is difficult when you have a force such as that employed by Gadhafi that is insinuating itself into cities, using snipers on rooftops, engaging in violent, terrible behavior that puts so many lives at risk, for air power alone to be sufficient to take out those forces. So given the mission that NATO is performing, it is performing admirably,” she said.
Clinton said she and Fratini discussed how NATO can accelerate the training of rebel forces, a conversation expected to continue next week when both attend a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Berlin.
Their talks also covered the surge in migration of Tunisians and others to Italy since political unrest began in the region.
Clinton said Italy is “bearing more than its share of responsibilities” on migration flows, while Fratini said it is not just an Italian problem but a “truly European issue” and that Italy wants more burden-sharing.