- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2011

ISTANBUL — A diplomatic push by Moammar Gadhafi’s regime ran into trouble Monday as opponents at home and abroad rejected any solution to the Libyan conflict that would involve one of his sons taking power.

While a Gadhafi envoy lobbied diplomats in European capitals, Italy became the third nation to declare that the rebels’ interim council in Libya is the only legitimate voice for the people of the North African nation.

The diplomatic whirlwind could signal a softening of his regime’s hardline public stance against any compromise that would end the fighting and steer Libya toward a political resolution.

Any long-term settlement poses tough questions about the fate of Gadhafi’s family and the new leader of a post-Gadhafi nation.

Some of Gadhafi’s adversaries quickly rejected the idea that any of his powerful sons, some of whom command militias accused of attacks on civilians, might play a transitional leadership role that would undoubtedly protect the family’s vast economic interests.

Gadhafi, who took power in a 1969 coup, has a legacy of brutality and involvement in terrorism but was able to prolong his rule and even emerge from pariah status over the past decade with the help of Libya’s immense oil wealth. Potential rivals to the eccentric leader were sidelined during four decades of harsh rule based on personal and tribal loyalties that undermined the army and other national institutions.

In Rome, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini welcomed Ali al-Essawi, the foreign envoy of the Libyan National Transitional Council, which was hastily set up in the eastern, rebel-held city of Benghazi as the uprising against Gadhafi began in February.

“We have decided to recognize the council as the only political, legitimate interlocutor to represent Libya,” Frattini told reporters. He said he will send an envoy to Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, in the coming days.

Frattini also insisted that Gadhafi and his family must go.

“Any solution for the future of Libya has a precondition: that Gadhafi’s regime leaves … that Gadhafi himself and the family leave the country,” Frattini said.

Italy is the third country, after France and Qatar, to give diplomatic recognition to the rebel council, despite international concerns about the unity, origin and ultimate intentions of the opposition. Its leaders have said they are committed to democratic reform, but U.S. lawmakers have cautioned that the allies need to know more about them before providing them with any weapons to fight Gadhafi’s forces.

Al-Essawi said one possible idea — replacing Gadhafi with one of his sons — was unacceptable.

In Benghazi, opposition spokeswoman Iman Bughaigis also said the rebels would not accept any solution that included Gadhafi or his sons.

“This war has shown everyone and the world that Gadhafi’s sons are no different from him,” Bughaigis said. “They are two sides of the same coin. Gadhafi has been waging a war on our people with the help of his sons’ militias and mercenaries, so we see no difference between them. There is no way to negotiate with this regime.”

In Washington, U.S. officials said they had no information about a plan involving Gadhafi transferring power to one of his sons.

“Ultimately it’s not something that the U.S. needs to decide,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. He also indicated that the U.S. was not yet ready to recognize the Libyan opposition, though he said “we continue to advise them and communicate with them regularly.”

The New York Times reported Monday that two of Gadhafi’s sons are proposing a solution in which one of them, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, would take over from his father and steer the country toward a constitutional democracy. The newspaper cited a diplomat and a Libyan official who were briefed on the plan, and reported that it was unclear whether Gadhafi himself supported the proposal.

Seif has cultivated reformist credentials in the West for years and had been seen as a likely successor who might usher some degree of change into the tightly controlled country. After Libya’s uprising, however, Seif denounced protesters in a finger-wagging appearance on state television, calling them drug addicts and warning of civil war.

For many Libyans, that performance linked him irrevocably with his father despite a sophisticated veneer that included study at the London School of Economics and a doctorate. In 2008, Seif traveled to the United States and met then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as part of Libya’s gradual campaign to rejoin the international community after years of isolation.

On Monday, a Libyan government envoy, Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi, held talks with senior Turkish officials in the Turkish capital, Ankara. The Turkish embassy remains open in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, and the officials plan to meet Libyan opposition leaders in the next few days.

Turkey’s NTV television cited al-Obeidi as telling Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that the Libyan government wants to see a quick end to the fighting.

Turkey has previously suggested that Gadhafi step down after appointing a transitional figure who can begin a reconciliation process.

“We will do our best for the pain to end and to bring about a road map that meets the demands of the Libyan people, including a political change,” Davutoglu said.

Al-Obeidi, a former Libyan prime minister, also planned to travel to Malta. On Sunday, he was in Greece, where he told the prime minister that Gadhafi was seeking a way out of the crisis.

A Greek Foreign Ministry official said the idea of Gadhafi leaving or staying “was not an issue of discussion” during the talks Sunday night.

“They want to negotiate and are willing to speak of a political solution,” said the official, who asked for anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the talks.

But Italy’s Frattini, who spoke with Greece’s foreign minister, said al-Obeidi’s proposals were “not credible.”

At U.N. headquarters in New York, the secretary-general’s special envoy to Libya, Abdelilah Al-Khatib, who visited Tripoli on March 31 and Benghazi on April 1, was asked if he could confirm the reports of a proposal that would have Gadhafi’s sons take power.

“I have read these reports as you did in the press,” he told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council.

Al-Khatib reiterated that Libyan authorities were willing to accept a cease-fire.

He told the Security Council that opposition leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil insisted that Gadhafi first must leave, his forces must withdraw and the Libyan people must be allowed to express their opinions freely — conditions the government reportedly rejected.

In Benghazi, he said the opposition provided him with their “vision of a democratic Libya” whose top priority “is to restore constitutional legitimacy through a referendum.”

“It outlines their principals and obligations of political democracy, calling for economic prosperity and development, use of science and technology to enhance society, and condemning intolerance, extremism and violence,” he said. It also calls for international justice, respect for all treaties and agreements, and “peaceful coexistence between nations and peoples.”

Al-Khatib said the opposition asked for financial help to assist people in the rebel-held east who haven’t received their monthly wages since the crisis began. He noted that the opposition announced that it had signed an agreement “to facilitate their efforts to sell oil in order to meet pressing economic needs.”

Al-Khatib said he is prepared to travel to Libya again if required.

“At this time, it is still very difficult to know how long it will take for the Libyan conflict to be resolved,” he said. “However, responsibility for finding a solution lies with the Libyan people themselves.”

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Rizzo reported from Rome. Associated Press Writers Paisley Dodds and David Stringer in London, Ben Hubbard in Benghazi, Matthew Lee in Washington, Elena Becatoros in Athens, Angela Charlton in Paris, Don Melvin in Brussels and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.