France impatient on Libya but denies Gaddafi talks
By John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) - France is growing impatient with the lack of progress on reaching a political solution to the crisis in Libya, but officials denied Paris is in talks with Gaddafi's government or could consider him not quitting power.
The government said Paris has sent messages to Tripoli via intermediaries, making clear the Libyan leader must relinquish power and withdraw his troops to enable a political solution.
"There are no direct negotiations between France and the Gaddafi regime, but we pass messages through the rebel council (TNC) and our allies," Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said, asked about comments by Saif al-Islam, one of Gaddafi's sons, saying Tripoli was in talks with the French government.
"France wants a political solution, like we have always said," Valero said in an online media briefing.
Concerned about the mounting cost of the military campaign and the prospect of it running on into the start of a 2012 election campaign, France stepped up its pressure at the weekend for opposition rebels to negotiate an end to the conflict.
Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said Sunday the rebels should start direct negotiations with Gaddafi's camp.
However Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Monday that the NATO-led alliance still needed to keep up its military pressure on Gaddafi's army and reiterated that Gaddafi's standing down is a necessary condition for an end to the conflict.
"We need to keep up the military pressure because apparently Gaddafi is failing to understand what is bound to happen for him," Juppe told reporters during a visit to Mauritania.
"At the same time, and we have been working for weeks and weeks on this, we need to seek a political solution what rests on three or four parameters: a real cease-fire, which means Gaddafi's troops withdrawing to their barracks."
NO CHANGE OF COURSE
Al-Islam was quoted in Algeria's El Khabar newspaper on Monday as saying that Gaddafi's administration was talking directly to Paris, and not to the rebels.
French officials acknowledged the government was growing increasingly impatient with the stalemate in Libya, but denied there has been any shift in position.
"There is no change of course in the French position," a Defence Ministry source told Reuters.
President Nicolas Sarkozy's office declined to comment.
In an interview with French regional daily Sud Ouest, Juppe left open the possibility of Gaddafi remaining in Libya.
"The question is not to know whether he must leave, but when and how," he was quoted as saying.
Asked whether that meant Gaddafi could stay in Libya if he stood down, or would be allowed to go to another country with guarantees, Juppe said: "I don't have the answer to that, but the African Union is working on it."
After meeting African Union negotiators in Addis Ababa at the weekend, Juppe said the group now accepted Gaddafi must leave power and that meant its peace initiative could move forward.
Leaders of Libya's rebel transition council are due to meet with NATO and European Union officials in Brussels this week.
(Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Editing by Catherine Bremer)
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