- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2011

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair cautioned the international community against taking Col. Moammar Gadhafi lightly, as a delegation of African leaders arriving in Tripoli said the Libyan dictator had accepted a cease-fire “road map” that they would soon present to the rebel faction.

“Whatever people say about [Col. Gadhafi] being delusional and so forth, he has kept that grip there for 40 years,” Mr. Blair said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

He stressed that “the status quo is not the option” in Libya, but that it is up to the Libyan people to decide their future.

Meanwhile Sunday, several African Union leaders met with Col. Gadhafi at his Tripoli compound and said his delegation would present the rebels Monday with a road map that calls for free passage for humanitarian aid, an immediate cease-fire, and a rebel-government dialogue.

“We have completed our mission with the brother leader, and the brother leader’s delegation has accepted the road map as presented by us,” South African President Jacob Zuma told reporters in Tripoli, also calling on NATO to end its airstrikes and “give the cease-fire a chance.”

Libyan rebel fighters fire rockets in the desert between Ajdabiya and Brega on Saturday. The rebels said NATO airstrikes Sunday helped them drive Col. Moammar Gadhafi's forces out of Ajdabiya, the gateway to the opposition's stronghold. (Associated Press)
Libyan rebel fighters fire rockets in the desert between Ajdabiya and Brega ... more >

The crisis in Libya, along with recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia and turmoil across the region, likely will complicate peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Mr. Blair said.

“If you are Israel, you were dealing with the [Hosni] Mubarak regime in Egypt. … You may agree or disagree, but it was predictable,” he said. “Now they’re dealing with an unpredictable situation.”

In a broad sense, Mr. Blair said a “steady evolution of change” is preferable to the rapid uprisings recently seen across the Middle East, partly because a slower-moving process makes the situation easier to understand and the outcome easier to predict for Israel, the United States and other nations.

Despite the fast-paced changes, Mr. Blair believes that al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists in the region will not be able to “gain sway” because the “modernizing and democratic forces are strong and they are determined.”

Speaking on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on Sunday, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III called U.S. intervention in Libya “an appropriate exception” to the rule that “you really ought not to use military force unless you have a substantial … national interest at stake.”

While supporting the “quite limited” use of power of Libya, Mr. Baker warned of what can happen when foreign policy goals are unclear and unnecessary conflicts are entered into.

“Sooner or later, you will lose the support of the American people, and the body bags start coming home,” he said.

Mr. Baker said involvement in Libya is acceptable because there are clear limits on what the United States is willing to do. President Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates have stressed there will be no U.S. ground presence in Libya.

Meanwhile, rebels said NATO airstrikes Sunday helped them drive Col. Gadhafi’s forces out of an eastern city that is the gateway to the opposition’s stronghold.

Four airstrikes largely stopped what had been heavy shelling of Ajdabiya by government forces, rebel battlefield commander and spokesman Col. Hamid Hassy said. NATO’s leader of the operation said the airstrikes destroyed 11 tanks near Ajdabiya and another 14 near Misrata, the only city rebels still hold in the western half of Libya.

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