Africa's heads of state signed off on a road map designed to help Libya emerge from civil war, but carefully dodged the issue of what role the country's entrenched dictator Moammar Gadhafi should play in its future government.
The proposal adopted by the 53-nation body comes after a delegation from the African Union traveled to Libya, meeting both with Gadhafi and the rebels attempting to overthrow him in an effort to mediate a solution. The rebels had said that a precondition was that Gadhafi must leave power before any negotiations can take place.
The road map agreed upon by the African leaders at this week's African Union summit states that Gadhafi has agreed to "an inclusive dialogue process" that will include the rebels. He had furthermore agreed not to take part in these negotiations.
However, the AU proposal does not say that Gadhafi should step down, and it does not make clear whether he would be allowed to play a part in the proposed transitional government, whose shape is to be determined during the talks.
Among the only guidance it provides is that the transitional period "will be underpinned by ... inclusivity in order to bring on board all stakeholders" and "consensus as a way to providing broad based support to all decisions that will be undertaken during the transition."
AU leaders refused to answer whether or not that language opens the door for Gadhafi to be a member of the new government, even if he did not take part in the negotiations to create it.
Gadhafi's chief of staff Bashir Saleh and the other representatives of the Libyan government called it a step forward. "I think it's a good thing as it will allow all the parties to come together and find a solution." The spokesman for the rebel delegation could not immediately be reached for comment.
Saleh denied that support for Gadhafi among his African peers is waning, even though several diplomats said that a majority of AU leaders are now in favor of him stepping down, even if they are not willing to say so publicly.
Several Western observers including one that was inside the closed-door session during the debate said that the AU was divided between those wanting the body to issue a statement calling for Gadhafi's departure and those arguing that Gadhafi is an elected head of state and cannot be forced out.
"The idea of his departure is illogical," said Saleh. "He's the head of state," said Saleh. "How can you ask someone to leave his own house?"