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US: Gadhafi Still at Large, But Politically Finished

Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, meets with Mostafa Abdel Jalil (R), Chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council interim government in Tripoli, September 14, 2011.
Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, meets with Mostafa Abdel Jalil (R), Chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council interim government in Tripoli, September 14, 2011.

The highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to visit Tripoli since the fall of the Muammar Gadhafi regime said Wednesday the ousted Libyan ruler, though apparently still at large in the country, is finished politically. Assistant Secretary of State for Near eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman held talks with Libyan interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil and other officials of the National Transitional Council, the NTC.

Libya's interim government says the leaders of Britain and France will travel to the North African nation Thursday, becoming the first foreign heads of state to visit the country since the overthrow of former leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Senior officials from Libya's National Transitional Council said British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil in the capital, Tripoli, before traveling to the eastern city of Benghazi.

Neither London nor Paris offered any official confirmation of the visit.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also scheduled to visit Libya on Thursday as part of a North African tour.

Feltman says the Libyan conflict is by no means over, with pro-Gadhafi forces still in control of a large triangle of territory including the former dictator’s stronghold town of Sirt.

But in a telephone conference call with State Department reporters from Tripoli, Feltman says he was struck, in his talks with NTC leaders and civil society members, how quickly the four-decade ruler of the country has faded into irrelevance.

“In terms of the people that we’ve met today, to the extent that they’re representative of the city or the country as a whole, Gadhafi is already part of the past, which I found interesting. So it seems as though: yes, there’s a risk that the NTC recognizes, that you can’t declare that the country’s fully liberated until Gadhafi is apprehended, until the danger to Libya’s civilians is ended across-the-board. But politically, he’s already finished," he said.

Feltman said he was impressed by the degree to which normalcy has already returned to the capital, and the way in which the NTC is asserting centralized control over the disparate militia groups that waged the anti-Gadhafi uprising.

He also said the country, gearing for promised elections in eight months, appears to less threatened by tribal, regional and religious rivalries than was feared only weeks ago.

“The people saw that they’re going to be able play out their political differences through the ballot box and have time to prepare for that. I really did leave today feeling as though the question of east versus west, the question of Islamists versus non-Islamists, the question of Tripoli versus the rest of the country are being discussed in a way that one would expect to be discussed in sort of positive way, rather than a fearful way," he said.

Watch a Related Report by Al Pessin

Feltman said he pressed NTC leaders to make good on stated commitments to bring more women into government and respect human rights, including those of African migrant workers said to have been subject to recent racially-based attacks and abuse.

He said he paid a sad visit to the remains of the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, which he said had been “pretty well trashed” by recent fighting and looting.

The State Department, none-the-less, is already moving diplomats into the capital from Benghazi. A spokesman saying Wednesday the United States intends to re-open an embassy as soon as possible regardless of whether the damaged chancery building can be salvaged.

More from VOA News

World Bank recognition

The World Bank said in a statement Tuesday its decision is based on events in Libya and the views of its member countries.  It also said it has been asked to examine the need for repairs to Libya's water, energy and transportation sectors, and to help the country's banking sector in conjunction with the International Monetary Fund.

The U.S. State Department said Tuesday Gadhafi's son, Saadi, is being detained in a state guest house in Niger, after crossing into the country earlier this week.  A State Department spokeswoman said it is "appropriate" for Niger and Libya to work together on the issue, and that it is up to the NTC to decide how to proceed.

Gadhafi loyalists in Niger

Officials in Niger say 32 people close to Gadhafi have fled to the central African nation since September 2.

Meanwhile, residents of one of Gadhafi's remaining strongholds fled Tuesday as NATO and NTC fighters continued to attack pro-Gadhafi forces.  Witnesses say dozens of cars left the town of Bani Walid while NATO planes flew overhead.

NATO said Wednesday its airstrikes a day earlier struck several targets near Sirte, another Gadhafi stronghold, including anti-aircraft guns and radar systems.

War crimes accusations

Tuesday, Amnesty International issued a report saying both sides of the conflict have committed war crimes during the six-month civil war. The report mainly details crimes against civilians committed by Gadhafi loyalists, but it also documents brutal revenge crimes committed by some provisional authority forces when loyalist fighters were ejected from eastern Libya.

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