WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Libya has moved beyond a historic tipping point and Muammar Gaddafi is now "part of Libya's past," Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman said on Monday.
"What's clear is that the rebels are winning, that it's only a matter of time now before Gaddafi has to step down before Gaddafi loses the entire country," Feltman said on ABC's "Good Morning America" program.
Asked whether the country had moved past a tipping point, Feltman replied, "absolutely."
After a six-month revolt against Gaddafi's 42-year rule, rebel forces swept into Tripoli over the weekend. Libyan government tanks and snipers put up scattered, last-ditch resistance in the capital on Monday.
Feltman, who spent the weekend in Benghazi talking with rebel leaders, said he did not know Gaddafi's whereabouts, and noted that the Libyan leader had not been seen for days.
"People don't have a good sense of where he is right now; it almost doesn't matter. The rebels are clearly taking over the city, taking over the institutions, we just got a report they've taken over state television.
"He has become, for all intents and purposes, part of Libya's past. and now people need to look to build Libya's better future," the U.S. diplomat said.
Asked what plans were in place for a transition, Feltman said: "The first step they're trying to do is to prevent some kind of cycle where people act out their own retribution ... There's a lot of post-Gaddafi planning that's taken place about how to govern the institutions, how to make sure essential services are provided."
Noting the chaotic aftermath of the ouster of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Feltman declined to make any predictions but said the "sectarian mix" that existed in Iraq was not present in Libya.
He parried a question about whether he was confident that Libya's new leaders would not ally with al Qaeda: "The question of Islamist rule in Libya is one that lots of people have been looking at, lots of people have been discussing."
However, he said: "The overwhelming vision that we are hearing from people across Libya, from civil society, from the government, from tribal leaders, is that they want a Libya that is modern, that is secular, that is unified -- independent Libyans controlling Libya's future in order to ensure that a moderate, secular Libya is the one that emerges from 42 years of Gaddafi's tyranny."
(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko; Editing by Eric Beech)