Italy's foreign minister stressed Monday that Libya's leader must relinquish power, saying Moammar Gadhafi's past crimes make it unlikely he will respect a cease-fire.
Speaking in London after Gadhafi's acceptance of an African Union brokered peace plan, which calls for an immediate cease-fire, Franco Frattini said that the only way for the North African country to move forward is without the Libyan leader.
"The future of Libya should include the departure of Gadhafi," Frattini said in London. "It is, frankly speaking, extremely difficult to envisage to have a cease-fire respected after the horrible crimes committed by Col. Gadhafi."
That is why Italy has chosen to strengthen its relations with the Libyan opposition's interim governing council, he added. Frattini said Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the interim council, will visit Rome on Friday to meet with Italy's president and prime minister.
Some suspect Gadhafi's agreement to the peace deal _ which also calls for cooperation in opening channels for humanitarian aid and the start of talks between the rebels and the government _ could be a tactic to stall for time, allowing his forces to rearm and regroup amid a military stalemate with rebel fighters.
Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said he believes the AU was "sincere" in its efforts to negotiate an end to the fighting, but any cease-fire must include the withdrawal of Gadhafi's forces from the cities they are attacking.
The AU plan makes no specific mention of any requirement for Gadhafi to withdraw his troops from Libya's cities as rebels have demanded.
"Nothing short of this would be a betrayal of the people of Libya and would play into the hands of the regime, which has announced two utterly meaningless cease-fires since the fighting began without its vicious military campaign missing a single beat," he said following talks with Frattini.
NATO's top official said NATO would not cut back its operations to give space to the diplomatic initiative, but would base its operations solely on the need to protect civilians from attack.
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he had taken note of the AU effort but noted that cease-fires have been declared before in Libya without being implemented. He said NATO had been in touch constantly with the African Union and other regional and international organizations.
He added that military action alone will not solve the crisis in the north African country and that he hoped for a political solution soon to prevent terrorists from taking advantage of the country's instability.
"I want to be clear. There can be no solely military solution to the crisis in Libya," he said in Brussels. "NATO welcomes all contributions to the broad international effort to stop the violence against the civilian population."
Since Saturday morning, NATO aircraft have flown nearly 300 missions, destroying 49 tanks, nine armored personnel carriers, three anti-aircraft guns and four large ammunition bunkers. The vast majority of the strikes were near the Libyan cities of Misrata and Ajdabiya.
NATO, which took over command of the Libya operation from the U.S. on March 31, has been criticized by rebel leaders for mistakes and a perceived slowdown in the operations. But Fogh Rasmussen said that, in its 10 days commanding the operation, NATO had flown more than 1,500 sorties over Libya _ more than 150 a day _ and more than half of those were strike missions.
"It's a quite high operational tempo," he said.
NATO foreign ministers will hold a meeting later this week in Berlin, and Fogh Rasmussen said that, in addition, several non-NATO countries had been invited to participate: Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Morocco, Sweden and Ukraine.
Associated Press writers Cassandra Vinograd in London, Don Melvin in Brussels and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.