Analysis: Gaddafi peace plan not “credible” but may buy time

April 10, 2011 - 0:0

LONDON (Reuters) -- Peace proposals by Muammar Gaddafi insisting on a future political role for his family are almost certainly non-starters but may buy Libya's leader the time he needs to drive a wedge in coalition ranks.

Gaddafi's chances of stirring interest in an interim political settlement may improve if a military stalemate endures, making his hopes for his sons seem less unrealistic.
Diplomatic activity generated by his proposals may act as a stalling tactic that wins him time to build defenses in his western strongholds, shore up tribal loyalties and divide and weaken the international coalition.
But there is no sign he has won broad interest in the West for his terms for ending a war threatening to destabilize an oil- and gas-rich region on Europe's southern flank. The notion of any role for the Gaddafi family in government is simply too much for his foes to stomach, analysts say.
Sources familiar with three scenarios floated by Gaddafi for an interim settlement say they share two unacceptable features -- that Gaddafi remain as a sort of national figurehead, albeit retired, and that one of his sons take a role in a unity government with the opposition, possibly as leader.
Experts on Libya said the proposals were not realistic.
“It can't be done,” said Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Tripoli.
“As soon as Gaddafi steps down, his sons are dead in the water politically, because it's Gaddafi who calls the shots.
“In theory, according to Gaddafi, he's already a figurehead and holds no official role, so it should not matter if he stays or goes. The reality, however, is otherwise.”
A diplomat familiar with the discussions said: “Various scenarios are being discussed … everyone wants a quick solution.
“Gaddafi's entourage wants to preserve the regime by all means, even if it means sharing power with one of the sons or stepping down symbolically.”
-----Long war may suit Gaddafi
Italy, once Gaddafi's closest Western partner, dismissed a message carried by an envoy of the Libyan leader about ways of halting the fighting and said Gaddafi must leave power.
Speaking after meeting Ali Essawi, a member of the Libyan rebel council, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said a divided Libya was not acceptable and the rebel council was the only legitimate interlocutor.
He described proposals carried to Greece on Sunday by Deputy Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi as “not credible.”
Essawi said the idea of some form of transitional government headed by one of Gaddafi's sons was “not an option.”
Obeidi was due later in Turkey, a Muslim NATO member which has said it is seeking to broker a ceasefire.
A North African political analyst, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the subject, said one of Gaddafi's proposals was for his son Saif al-Islam to take over as interim leader pending political reforms to be negotiated with the Libyan opposition, and for Gaddafi himself to retire.
Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi's most prominent son, has in the past advocated reforms to promote government transparency and accountability, free enterprise and human rights. But he delivered a jarring television address early in the conflict, warning Libyans against revolt.
Gaddafi has described the rebels as “armed gangs” backed by al Qaeda and said they are bent on terrorizing ordinary Libyans, who he says support him and his rule.
For their part, the rebels have refused any talks with Gaddafi except to discuss the manner of his departure from power after more than four decades of ruling the North African state.
Saad Djebbar, a former legal adviser to the Libyan government, said it was likely that the flurry of peace feelers from Tripoli were just Gaddafi's way of buying more time.
“He has said repeatedly in public during this crisis that he is a long-term player while he sees his enemies as short-term players. He needs time and he feels he can get it this way.”
A drawn-out conflict might hurt the coalition's ambitions just as much as Gaddafi's, if not more.
Without effective diplomacy to end the war, suggested Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Gaddafi's rhetoric portraying the coalition as Western crusaders could find an increasingly receptive Arab audience even though some Arab countries are fighting alongside Western forces.
In a commentary, Joshi said the underlying reality was that the “ Arab presence is a thin veneer over another transatlantic war, and that veneer is one that will be worn away further over time without a heroic diplomatic effort.”
In the battle for leverage in any future negotiations, the West has not always played its cards adroitly.
The coalition scored a public relations coup last week when Gaddafi's foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, defected to Britain, a move seen as likely to demoralize Gaddafi's encourage.
But other loyalists may not follow his example because Britain has said publicly Koussa would not be granted immunity from prosecution for any terrorism acts tied to Libya.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said British officials would meet Scottish prosecutors on Monday to arrange a police interview with Koussa over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in which 270 people were killed.
Djebbar said Britain's treatment of Koussa was a “gift to Gaddafi. Gaddafi will point to that and say to his followers 'you'd be better off staying with me'.”
Miles agreed that the treatment of Koussa would have discouraged those wanting to defect. “It would have been better to say nothing in public about immunity at all,” he said