World leaders in Istanbul seek political solution for Libya

Summit comes amid reports Gaddafi might be ready to give up power if he could get a deal; Clinton: Gaddafi putting out "contradictory signals."

Muammar Gaddafi 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Muammar Gaddafi 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
ISTANBUL - Western and Arab powers begin talks in Turkey on Friday aimed at finding a political solution for Libya that would persuade Muammar Gaddafi to give up power and end a conflict that could otherwise drag on interminably.
The fourth meeting of the Libya contact group, established in London in March, comes after reports suggesting Gaddafi might be ready to give up his 41-year rule if he could get a deal.
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Yet the Libyan leader remains as unpredictable as ever, and no one appears sure whether he intends to fight in hope of keeping his grip on the territory round Tripoli or seek an exit strategy that guarantees security for himself and his family.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are among more than a dozen foreign ministers taking part in the Istanbul meeting.
The heads of NATO, the Arab League and other regional organizations are also due to attend.
They will listen to a report from UN Secretary-General's special envoy on Libya, Abdul Elah Al-Khatib, on the result of his contacts with the Gaddafi government in Tripoli and the rebel National Transitional Council in the eastern city of Benghazi.
"Our expectation is to discuss what might happen in Libya post-Gaddafi, and how we can help the opposition in Benghazi," a senior Turkish official told Reuters.
On Thursday Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu dined with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Rasmussen had earlier called on NATO members to provide more warplanes to bomb Libyan military targets, as the alliance seeks to keep military pressure on Gaddafi while protecting civilians from his forces.
"We can't protect civilians in Libya effectively if we are not prepared to take out critical military units on the ground that can be used to attack civilians. This is the reason why we do air-to-ground strikes," Rasmussen said in The Hague on Thursday.
The contact group will also hear from representatives of the Libyan opposition, whose forces are struggling to make decisive push toward Tripoli despite attacking from the east and west.
Mahmoud Jebril, a senior member of the rebel council, said in Brussels on Wednesday that there had been no negotiations so far with Gaddafi's regime to stop the war.
France says Gaddafi ready to quit, US wary
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said this week that emissaries from Gaddafi's government in contact with NATO members had said that Gaddafi was ready to quit.
But Clinton said the Gaddafi camp was putting out "contradictory signals" and the Libyan leader had yet to meet any of the international community's demands, namely to cease violence against his people, withdraw his forces and step down.
Any solution could hinge on whether Gaddafi, after stepping down, is allowed to stay in Libya or take refuge in a third country, regardless of an International Criminal Court's investigation into crimes against his people.
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