Representatives of the Libyan opposition seeking endorsement for their rebel administration met the EU foreign policy chief on Tuesday and planned to speak at the European Parliament on Wednesday.
Mahmoud Jebril, head of the crisis committee of the National Libyan Council set up in opposition to Muammar Gaddafi, and Ali Essawi, the council’s foreign minister, met Catherine Ashton in Strasbourg, an EU official said.
“The meeting took place in a positive atmosphere and (Ashton) will reflect on what they said. She will continue to engage with them,” a spokesman for Ashton said.
EU officials stressed the meeting did not represent an endorsement of the men or the opposition council, even though the European Union has called for Gaddafi to step down.
“They are in Strasbourg, they requested the meeting, and (Ashton) is very happy to meet them as part of her strategy to gather as much information and as much fact as possible,” the spokesman said.
“Information from Libya is very sketchy, we are very much reliant on media reports … so we are in a listening mode at the moment and we are keen to listen to everybody.”
The men were invited by the Liberals, a large political grouping in the European Parliament, to speak at a debate on Libya on Wednesday. Their presence coincides with EU countries’ efforts to make contact with Libya’s emerging opposition.
An EU diplomat said France was working on arranging a meeting between the two Libyans and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe in the next two days.
Essawi was the Libyan ambassador to India but quit his post last month after Gaddafi launched his crackdown on protests.
Jebril told the Liberals the best way the European Union could help his movement would be “to recognise the council as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people”.
He called for support for the armed struggle against Gaddafi but said the opposition did not want intervention by foreign ground forces. Instead, he reiterated a call for a no-fly zone to prevent the use of warplanes against rebel forces.
“Empowering the people to continue their armed struggle against Gaddafi can be done by different means,” he said. “No fly zone is one of them, supplying the peoples with arms.”
The EU spokesman said it was too early to judge what the political mandate of the two Libyans was but said they were “two leading figures” of the emerging opposition council.
A spokesman for the Liberals said the two would travel to Brussels where they were expected to meet some EU foreign ministers on the sidelines of a crisis meeting on Libya on Thursday.
NATO defence ministers will also discuss Libya in Brussels on Thursday, including the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone.
The opposition council, based in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, has also called for foreign air strikes to help dislodge Gaddafi, who has been in power for 41 years.
The council named Jebril, who was involved in a project to establish a democratic state before the revolt began, to head its crisis committee on Saturday. Reuters