Late Night Libya Update: Defections and “Secret Talks”Posted: April 1, 2011
This is just a quick update on the events of the last couple of days related to Libya. You can use this as an open thread. The big headline is that Gaddafi’s sons may want to find a way out of the mess they’re in. Last night the Guardian reported that
Colonel Gaddafi’s regime has sent one of its most trusted envoys to London for confidential talks with British officials, the Guardian can reveal.
Mohammed Ismail, a senior aide to Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, visited London in recent days, British government sources familiar with the meeting have confirmed. The contacts with Ismail are believed to have been one of a number between Libyan officials and the west in the last fortnight, amid signs that the regime may be looking for an exit strategy.
Disclosure of Ismail’s visit comes in the immediate aftermath of the defection to Britain of Moussa Koussa, Libya’s foreign minister and its former external intelligence head, who has been Britain’s main conduit to the Gaddafi regime since the early 1990s.
In the Guardian’s follow-up article, Peter Beaumont writes that Gaddafi’s sons seem to be running things in Libya, and they want to make a deal with the opposition fighters.
…increasingly, according to those familiar with how Saif and his brother Saadi are thinking, Gaddafi’s sons have become aware that they have a problem that they need to find a way out of – despite Saif’s bellicose language.
Ismail’s visit, described in Tripoli as a trip to see his children who are being educated in Britain, is all the more significant given the defection of Libya’s foreign minister and former external intelligence chief, Moussa Koussa.
He was here, say Foreign Office sources, on regime business. And that is significant at a time when diplomats and others have been in the capital to discuss how Libya might be after Gaddafi.
While it is difficult to assess in a regime as opaque as Libya, the evidence is that something is afoot. What it suggests is that under intense international pressure, key figures around Gaddafi – including, it would seem, some of his sons – are reaching out to channels of communication with the west.
According to Beaumont, there have been a number of contacts between Libya and the Brits, the French, and the U.S. in the past couple of weeks. Nevertheless, Gaddafi turned down the opposition’s offer of a cease fire today.
The tempo of diplomatic and military action paving the way to a possible ceasefire in Libya’s bloody civil war was gathering pace yesterday with reports that a son of Muammar Gaddafi was attempting to broker a deal.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who has appeared as a public and belligerent face of the regime during the weeks of violent strife, is said to be proposing an agreement which would limit the role of his father and include opposition figures in an interim government. Elections would be held in the near future and a “reconciliation process” put in place.
The details of the plan cannot be independently verified. However, according to diplomatic sources, senior officials in the West view Saif al-Islam, who supposedly wants to remain to play a “constructive role” in a post-war Libya, as a credible figure.
I don’t think the opposition is interested in having anyone from the Gaddafi family involved in the running any future Libyan government though.
Some other important members of Gaddafi’s regime have already defected, and the Guardian provides a list of those, along with big names who are sticking by the Libyan dictator.
The latest defector was Ali Adussalm Treki, had been appointed to represent Libya at the UN. Yesterday Treki, who was in Cairo, announced that he would not accept the post and did not intend to return to Libya. The Arabist Blog excerpted an article from the London Times (behind a paywall) that says more defections are coming.
…there were reports that other top Libyan officials had also defected, including the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament, the head of external intelligence and the Oil Minister. An influential deputy foreign minister was also said to have quit.
If those reports are confirmed, it would suggest that Colonel Gaddafi’s regime is is indeed “crumbling and rotten” – as David Cameron said today – and about to collapse around its leader.
Another name added to the list of defectors was Ali Adussalm Treki, a former foreign minister whom Colonel Gaddaffi had appointed as ambassador to the UN. He refused to take up the post, condemning the “spilling of blood”.
Since Gaddafi was running low on candidates for the UN ambassador, he asked someone from Nicaragua to do the job. From Bloomberg:
Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, a former foreign minister of Nicaragua’s socialist Sandinista government and one-time president of the United Nations General Assembly, has been named by Muammar Qaddafi’s regime as Libya’s ambassador to the UN.
D’Escoto Brockmann, a Catholic priest who was General Assembly president in 2008 and 2009, once said former U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were “possessed by the demons of manifest destiny.” D’Escoto was Nicaragua’s foreign minister for the Sandinista government as it fought U.S.-backed contra rebels during the nation’s 1980s civil war.
He called Reagan a “butcher of my people” for supporting a rebellion that caused Nicaraguans to suffer “something much bigger than the Twin Towers,” a reference to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
Nicaragua’s government said in a statement that D’Escoto Brockmann received instructions from Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to “accept this nomination and represent the people and government of Libya to re-establish peace and defend their legitimate right to resolve their national conflicts without foreign intervention.”
Meanwhile, Libya is apparently crawling with CIA, MI6, and goddess knows what other secret operatives. Mark Hosenball, who first broke the story of Obama’s “secret finding,” now says intelligence operatives were there before Obama signed the authorization. I guess those guys don’t count as boots on the ground? Well, they still make me nervous.
U.S. intelligence operatives were on the ground in Libya before President Barack Obama signed a secret order authorizing covert support for anti-Gaddafi rebels, U.S. government sources told Reuters.
The CIA personnel were sent in to contact opponents of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and assess their capabilities, two U.S. officials said.
“They’re trying to sort out who could be turned into a military unit and who couldn’t,” said Bob Baer, a former CIA case officer whose memoirs were turned into the Hollywood thriller “Syriana.”
Baer said the U.S. operatives most likely entered Libya on the ground through neighboring Egypt and are lightly equipped.
The president — who said in a speech on Monday “that we would not put ground troops into Libya” — has legal authority to send U.S. intelligence personnel without having to sign a covert action order, current and former U.S. officials said.
Within the last two or three weeks, Obama did sign a secret “finding” authorizing the CIA to pursue a broad range of covert activities in support of the rebels.
Hosenball also says Obama is considering sending in special forces to help train the Libyan opposition fighters. I don’t like the sound of that either.
I’ve been supportive of the no-fly zone, just to prevent a massacre, but I don’t want to see this go much further.
UPDATE: The former Sandanista who had agreed to act as Libya’s UN representative has changed his mind.
The apparent about-face by Mr. D’Escoto, whose country has forged an unlikely friendship with Libya, marked a modest setback for the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. It has endured several high-profile defections from among its diplomatic ranks this week, including the decision of its former foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, to defect in London.
Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgam, defected in late February after denouncing Colonel Qaddafi during a Security Council meeting in which he pleaded for international help to save Libya from bloodshed. Then, the Libyan government’s choice to replace him, Ali Treki, a close associate of Mr. Qaddafi and a former United Nations General Assembly President, left the government and the country. But Mr. Treki said in an interview in Cairo on Friday that he would not call himself a defector.
A Nicaraguan diplomat, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said that the initiative to appoint Mr. D’Escoto as Libya’s envoy had come from Libya, and not Nicaragua. He declined to comment on the reasons underlying Mr. D’Escoto’s decision to represent Nicaragua instead, but he said that Mr. D’Escoto would use his new position to press for a cease fire in Libya.
Hmmm….sounds like someone pressured someone. Maybe Russia?