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US Backs Russian Mediation in Libya

Rebel fighters enter the village of Al-Qawalish after a battle to seize control of the town from forces loyal to Libya's leader Moammar Gadhafi, July 6, 2011

Rebel fighters enter the village of Al-Qawalish after a battle to seize control of the town from forces loyal to Libya's leader Moammar Gadhafi, July 6, 2011

The United States says it is prepared to support Russia's mediation efforts in Libya, as France signals its frustration with the lack of progress in reaching a political solution to the crisis.

U.S. President Barack Obama thanked Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for his country's negotiation efforts in Libya, and said the United States supports talks that lead to a democratic transition and the departure of leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Medvedev has joined Western leaders in urging Gadhafi to step down, and Russian envoys have traveled to Libya to meet with government and rebel representatives.

Russia abstained from voting on a U.N. Security Council resolution earlier this year that authorized international involvement in Libya and has since criticized the scale and intent of the NATO-led campaign.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told a French radio station Tuesday the Libyan government has sent envoys to several countries to say Gadhafi is "ready to go."

France has said it sent messages to the Libyan government saying Gadhafi must step down as part of any political solution to the five-month conflict with opposition forces fighting to end his 42-year rule.

France has also given direct aid to the rebels and is taking part in NATO airstrikes against Libyan government forces. But because of concerns about the mounting cost of the military campaign, France wants opposition fighters to do more to end the conflict.

The rebels have long rejected any negotiations with the Gadhafi government while he remains in charge.

Opposition fighters attempting to advance towards Tripoli from front lines near the western rebel stronghold of Misrata came under fierce shelling by pro-government forces Monday. At least six rebels were killed in clashes near the coastal town of Zlitan.

Switzerland says it is strengthening its presence in the rebel-held city of Benghazi, sending a diplomat to open a liaison office there. The country's foreign ministry says the move will help intensify its political relations with the opposition Libyan National Transitional Council.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking in Iraq Monday, said some NATO allies operating in Libya could see their forces "exhausted" within 90 days and that the U.S. will be "looked at to help fill the gap."

He did not say which countries he was referring to, or what the U.S. response would be to any request for increased military assistance.

Also Monday, the United Nations envoy for Libya, Abdel Elah al-Khatib, said he has urged direct talks between Gadhafi's government and the rebels, but acknowledged the two sides remain far apart.

Khatib said one of the key issues is agreeing on an institutional body to manage a political transition. He said any such group would have to be "all-inclusive and involve representatives from all political and social groups, as well as a wide range of factions, regions and tribes."

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.