- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 12, 2011

PARIS (AP) — French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Tuesday that Paris has had contact with emissaries from Col. Moammar Gadhafi who say the embattled Libyan strongman is “prepared to leave.”

Mr. Juppe said that while the contacts do not constitute proper negotiations, “everyone (involved in Libya’s civil war) has contacts with everyone else. The Libyan regime sends its messengers all over — to Turkey, to New York, to Paris.

“We receive emissaries who are saying: ‘Gadhafi is prepared to leave. Let’s discuss it.’”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero stressed that the contacts with Libyans close to Col. Gadhafi do not constitute negotiations. He also denied suggestions that France is acting as a go-between for Libyan rebels by passing messages when French officials meet with Gadhafi emissaries or that the French are taking a leading role in such contacts. The rebels, “if they have the intention of sending messages,” can do so themselves, Mr. Valero said at a briefing.

He refused to identify the Libyan emissaries, other than to say they were close to Col. Gadhafi and travel to various major capitals.

France was instrumental in launching the NATO-led operation of airstrikes against Col. Gadhafi’s forces in a U.N.-mandated mission to protect civilians resisting his four-decade regime.

NATO flew more than 100 sorties Monday and hit several key targets in western Libya, including a military storage facility, three military facilities and seven military vehicles, according to an operational report Tuesday.

French officials have insisted that Col. Gadhafi’s giving up power is key to ending the hostilities, which began in mid-March, and Mr. Juppe said that more and more countries are now in agreement on that point.

“There is a consensus on how to end the crisis, which is that Gadhafi has to leave power,” Mr. Juppe said. “That (consensus) was absolutely not a given two or three months ago.

“The question is no longer whether Gadhafi is going to leave power, but when and how,” he added.

Parliament is due to vote later Tuesday on whether to continue French participation in the operations in Libya.

French law requires parliamentary approval for all military campaigns lasting more than four months. The Libya operation has wide support among lawmakers from both the governing conservative party and among the opposition Socialists, and the vote is expected to pass with a broad majority.

Mr. Juppe insisted the operation was helping shape the situation on the ground in Libya.

“Contrary to what we might hear, things are evolving in Libya,” both from a strategic and political perspective, he said.

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