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NATO Officials to Meet With Libyan Rebels

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen listens to a question during a media conference at the Residence Palace in Brussels, July 6, 2011

In a new sign of growing international recognition of the Libyan rebel movement, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has confirmed reports the alliance will meet their representatives next week. The talks come amid stepped-up efforts to resolve the Libyan conflict.

At a Brussels news conference, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen characterized the alliance's July 13 meeting with members of Libya's National Transitional Council as an opportunity to exchange views and hear about the rebels' road map for a democratic transition. Twelve of NATO's 28 members officially recognize the Libyan opposition group.

Rasmussen did not confirm growing reports that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is exploring options to step down.

"But it is quite clear that the end state must be that he leaves power," he said. "That has been clearly stated by the international community and by the opposition in Libya. I see that as the only possible way forward."

There is growing speculation an end game may be in sight. Members of the Libyan government have reportedly been meeting with members of the opposition in various European cities. And Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who has offered to mediate a solution to the Libyan crisis, held talks on the matter Monday with South African President Jacob Zuma.

In another sign the rebels are making advances, the French government, which announced last week it had been supplying light arms to the rebels, said this week it had stopped doing so, because the rebels no longer needed the help. Rasmussen said the rebels are advancing militarily in Libya, although it was unclear how much.

"Momentum is against Gadhafi," added Rasmussen. "His economic strength to sustain a war against his people is declining. His ministers and generals are deserting and the international community has turned against him. For Gadhafi, it is game over."

Rasmussen dismissed the possibility of Ciolonel Gadhafi stepping down in favor of his son, Seif al-Islam, pointing to a new International Criminal Court arrest warrant against both men.

The secretary general said although he shared concerns recently expressed by former U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates that NATO's European partners needed to shoulder a greater defense burden, NATO's Libya campaign is an example of European leadership.