Representatives of Muammar Qadhafi’s embattled government held face-to-face talks with U.S. officials in neighbouring Tunisia over the weekend, a Libyan government official said, describing the meeting as a first step in opening dialogue.
A U.S. State Department official confirmed Monday that the meeting took place but said it was only to deliver a clear and firm message that Mr. Qadhafi must step down. The U.S. official said it was not a negotiating session and no future meetings were planned.
The talks came after Friday’s decision by the United States and more than 30 other nations meeting in Istanbul to recognize the eastern-based rebels fighting Qadhafi’s government as the country’s legitimate representatives, added the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly.
Libyan spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli that the talks were held on Saturday in Tunisia but he refused to say which officials took part.
“This is a first step and we want to take further steps,” he said. “We don’t want to be stuck in the past; we want to move forward all the time,” he told reporters in the corridors of the hotel where foreign journalists are required to reside.
The U.S. was an active participant in NATO airstrikes against Libyan forces that began March 19 and were authorized under a U.N. mandate to protect Libyan civilians from Mr. Qadhafi’s advancing forces.
The U.S. later turned over command of the air campaign to NATO and now plays a largely logistical role in the continuing airstrikes.
Fighting continued on Monday around the eastern oil port of Brega. An Associated Press reporter on the scene witnessed rocket duels between the opposing sides and the thick black smoke of burning oil terminals blanketing the sky.
In Tripoli, Mr. Ibrahim claimed that more than 500 rebels had been killed in five days of failed assaults against the strategic town. Rebels, however, have only reported a handful of casualties and maintain fighting continues in their attempt to take the oil terminal on the front lines of the civil war. Hindu