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Obama: US Backs Russian Mediation in Libya if Gadhafi Goes

French President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomes Mahmoud Jibril, representative for foreign affairs with the Libyan Transitional National Council, prior to a meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris (File Photo -  May 14, 2011)
French President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomes Mahmoud Jibril, representative for foreign affairs with the Libyan Transitional National Council, prior to a meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris (File Photo - May 14, 2011)

U.S. President Barack Obama told his Russian counterpart Monday that the United States is prepared to support Moscow's mediation in Libya provided it leads to a democratic transition and the departure of leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The White House said Mr. Obama spoke with President Dimitry Medvedev by telephone, thanking him for Russia’s negotiation efforts in the North African nation.

Mr. Medvedev has joined Western leaders in urging Mr. 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.

Meanwhile, France has denied claims it has changed policy toward the Libyan conflict and begun direct negotiations with Mr. Gadhafi. But officials in Paris signaled their impatience with the lack of progress in reaching a political solution to the crisis.

Foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Monday that Paris has sent messages to the Gadhafi government "in consultation with" Libya's rebel Transitional National Council.

Valero said the messages tell Mr. Gadhafi he must step down as part of any political solution to his five-month conflict with opposition forces fighting to end his 42-year rule.

Earlier, Mr. Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam, told the Algerian newspaper El Khabar that French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently met a Gadhafi envoy to discuss the Libyan conflict.

France has given direct aid to the rebels and is taking part in NATO airstrikes against Libyan government forces.

French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said Sunday that opposition leaders eventually must talk to the Libyan government to resolve the conflict politically. The rebels have long rejected any negotiations with the Gadhafi government while he remains in charge.

Concerned about the mounting cost of the military campaign in Libya, France wants opposition fighters it is supporting to do more to end the conflict.

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 Mr. 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."

Meanwhile, 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.

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

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