- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi on Wednesday unleashed a diplomatic offensive to win international support for his embattled regime, while his opponents launched their own effort to gain recognition as the “sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people.”

In Libya, meanwhile, Col. Gadhafis troops fought poorly armed rebel forces and blew up an oil pipeline and oil-storage facility.

The Libyan dictator dispatched envoys to Egypt, Portugal and Belgium ahead of meetings of the European Union and NATO in Brussels on Thursday and of the Arab League in Cairo on Saturday, sources in Egypt and Libya told The Washington Times.

Hussein Hassouna, the Arab Leagues ambassador in Washington, said the league will call for a no-fly zone at its meeting.

In Lisbon, Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado met with an envoy from the Gadhafi regime. Portugal will chair the U.N. Security Councils sanctions committee on Libya this week.

In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will hold talks with two envoys from the Libyan opposition National Transitional Council on Thursday, according to the Elysee presidential palace.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Rahman bin Ali al-Saiid al-Zawi, a prominent member of the Libyan military, arrived in Cairo for talks with either the Egyptian military or Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, a diplomatic source in Cairo said on the condition of anonymity.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Col. Gadhafis representatives appear to have traveled to Brussels to talk with EU and NATO officials meeting on Thursday and Friday.

The two emissaries from the National Transitional Council, Ali Al Issawi and Mahmoud Jibril, met the EUs top foreign-policy official, Catherine Ashton, on Tuesday.

Ms. Ashton will chair a meeting of European foreign ministers on Thursday to discuss developments in Libya. The European Council will hold a separate meeting Friday.

“We may have brought Gadhafi out of the cold. It is now time to send him back to the cold,” she told members of the European Parliament, referring to the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Libyan regime.

Mr. Issawi and Mr. Jibril have been tasked with winning international recognition of the National Transitional Council as the “sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people,” Mohamed Benrasali, a member of the provisional committee administering the city of Misurata, told The Times in a phone interview.

Mr. Jibril and Mr. Issawi are in charge of foreign affairs and international liaison.

Gene Cretz, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, met this week with members of the Libyan opposition in Rome and Cairo.

In Libya, forces loyal to Col. Gadhafi engaged rebels in pitched battles and bombed an oil pipeline and oil-storage facility 360 miles east of Tripoli. Residents said the cities of Ras Lanouf and Az Zawiya were facing a fiery onslaught from the regime.

In Misurata, another city that has borne the brunt of assaults, residents were bracing for another attack from troops stationed on the outskirts of the city.

The National Transitional Council was established in the rebel-held eastern city of Benghazi on Feb. 27. It is led by Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalil, a former justice minister in the Gadhafi regime.

The council said its goal is to facilitate the creation of “a free, just and democratic Libyan state.”

Meanwhile, Jadallah Azzuz at-Talhi, a former Libyan prime minister, tried to engage the opposition in talks earlier this week, council sources told The Times.

“The council made its position clear that Gadhafi should get out within 72 hours,” said Mr. Benrasali. He denied there was any rift in the council regarding its position on dialogue with the regime while Col. Gadhafi remains in power.

“There is no conflict in the council. The position is one: No talks with the dictator or the regime,” Mr. Benrasali said.

In Washington, President Obamas top advisers weighed possible steps to halt the violence. A no-fly zone over Libya is one of the options on the table.

In an interview late Tuesday with Turkish television TRT Turk, Col. Gadhafi said a no-fly zone would prove the West’s real intention is to seize Libyas oil.

“Such a situation would be useful,” Col. Gadhafi said. “The Libyan people would understand their real aims, to take Libya under their control, to take their freedoms and to take their oil and all Libyan people will take up arms and fight.”

Another option would be to arm opposition forces in Libya. However, the U.N.’s sanctions committee first would have to grant a waiver, since Security Council Resolution 1970, which imposed sanctions on Libya, expressly forbids all member states from “direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer” of arms to Libya.

“If the U.S. decides explicitly or covertly to arm its rebels, it looks to be in violation of this resolution,” said Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations.

In interviews with The Times, rebels said they were willing to buy the arms if they could find a seller. The rebels control much of Libya’s vast oil resources and say they have enough money to purchase the weapons.

Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut independent, said in a statement that the U.N. resolution targets the “Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,” the self-proclaimed name of Col. Gadhafi’s regime.

“We believe this language should be construed narrowly in order to hold open the possibility of providing military aid to the opposition, which presumably does not consider itself part of the ‘Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,’” they said.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters Wednesday the alliance is not looking to intervene in Libya, “but we have asked our military to conduct the necessary planning for all eventualities,” he said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.