U.S. reacts cautiously to AU peace plan for Libya

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 11, 2011 2:13 PM

By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States reacted cautiously on Monday to a peace plan for Libya rejected by the rebels, saying it was waiting for details and shedding no light on whether the proposal required Muammar Gaddafi to step down.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated the U.S. view that the Libyan leader, embroiled in a civil war against rebels seeking to overthrow him, must leave power and the country but she did not include this on a list of "non-negotiable" demands.

While a State Department official said the omission was not intentional, it suggested Clinton might be trying to leave some negotiating room to keep alive the African Union peace plan despite its rejection by the Benghazi-based opposition.

It is unclear how the conflict may end given the apparent stalemate between Gaddafi's forces and the rebels, who are being assisted by NATO air power.

President Barack Obama, seeking to extricate U.S. troops from long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has ruled out sending U.S. ground forces to Libya, a North African oil exporter which the United States long accused of sponsoring terrorism.

The rebels said there could be no deal to end the two-month-old civil war unless Gaddafi, who has ruled the country for more than four decades, left power.

Earlier, South African President Jacob Zuma, head of an AU delegation, said Gaddafi had accepted the plan, including a ceasefire proposal.

Clinton largely sidestepped a question at a news conference about the U.S. view of the peace plan, saying she had received accounts of the proposal and how it was received by both sides but said she was waiting to get "a full readout."

She did not directly address a query on whether the proposal required that Gaddafi step down.

"We have made it very clear that we want to see a ceasefire. We want to see the Libyan regime forces pull back from the areas that they have forcibly entered. We want to see a resumption of water, electricity and other services to cities that have been brutalized by the Gaddafi forces. We want to see humanitarian assistance reach the people of Libya. These terms are non-negotiable," Clinton told reporters.

"We believe, too, that there needs to be a transition that reflects the will of the Libyan people and the departure of Gaddafi from power and from Libya," she added during a news conference with Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb.

A State Department official said her choice not to put Gaddafi's departure among the non-negotiable terms was not deliberate.

It "was not intentional. Our position remains that Gaddafi has to go," said the official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)