(Adds Clinton’s arrival in the U.A.E. in first paragraph, officials on Libya meeting agenda starting in eighth paragraph.)
June 8 (Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Abu Dhabi to discuss with NATO allies the outlook for Libya without Muammar Qaddafi, even as the group’s attention may shift farther east from Libya to the upheaval in Yemen.
With North Atlantic Treaty Organization jets stepping up daytime strikes on Libya’s capital, Tripoli, the United Arab Emirates will host Clinton and other members of the 22-nation Libya Contact Group tomorrow.
In the first indication of a time frame, NATO Secretary- General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a meeting in Brussels of defense ministers from the alliance that Qaddafi’s departure “may take weeks” but “could happen tomorrow.”
In Washington, President Barack Obama renewed his demand that Qaddafi leave, as a chorus of world leaders predicted the demise of the Libyan leader, who after a 42-year rule has failed to crush a popular uprising that began in mid-February.
Qaddafi “must step down and hand power to the Libyan people,” Obama said at a joint news conference yesterday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington. “The pressure will only continue to increase until he does.”
At the United Nations in New York, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said he is gathering evidence that may lead to charging Qaddafi with ordering the systematic rape of women opposed to his regime.
Qaddafi remains in control of the capital, in the country’s west, while the rebels run most of eastern Libya.
More Arab Backing
For the third meeting of the Libya Contact Group, the oil- rich U.A.E is recruiting more Arab support for the NATO-enforced air campaign, according to U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. The U.A.E. and Qatar were the first Arab nations to take part in the United Nations-authorized no-fly zone over Libya.
Mauritania, mentioned in the past as a potential safe haven for Qaddafi, has become the latest country to call on him to step down.
Discussions will deepen on what NATO allies envisage for a post-Qaddafi Libya, including whether he and his family can stay in the North African country, according to senior administration officials. Regarding exile, there are no specific offers on the table yet, the officials said.
“With each meeting, international pressure is growing and momentum is building for change in Libya,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on the secretary’s plane. “While the main focus of this meeting is on Libya,” Clinton will have a chance to talk to European and Arab allies about the “evolving situation in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.”
The situation in Libya may be overshadowed in tomorrow’s discussions by the chaos unleashed in Yemen after an injured President Ali Abdullah Saleh this week fled to Saudi Arabia, yet vowed to come back. After four months of demonstrations, protesters celebrated his departure.
Violence in the Arab region’s poorest country threatens to mirror the situation across the Gulf of Aden in Somalia, which has been mired in a civil war for two decades and hasn’t had a functioning central government since 1991.
Vice President Abduraboo Mansur Hadi has assumed Saleh’s duties “until the president returns,” Abdu al-Janadi, the deputy information minister, said in a telephone interview from Sana’a, the capital. That will be within days, state news agency Saba said.
Though Saleh has been a strong ally in the fight against al-Qaeda, the U.S. has called on Yemen’s leaders to proceed with an immediate transition of power and say that counterterrorism work would continue with others at the helm.
“I can’t speculate on what President Saleh is going to do or say, but we do want to emphasize we’re calling for a peaceful and orderly transition, a nonviolent transition,” Clinton said June 6 at a joint news conference with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.
The Saudi cabinet, chaired by King Abdullah, called for Saleh to accept an accord to give up power after 33 years in office, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
Terrorist attacks on the U.S. have been planned in Yemen. Its strategic location in the Arabian Gulf, the source of almost 20 percent of U.S. oil supplies, makes the country’s stability an administration priority.
U.S. administration officials said Saleh was more badly burned than originally thought, raising doubts about his ability to return. The Yemeni leader has reportedly received bad burns to his face and to 40 percent of his body, according to officials not authorized to speak on the record.
Al-Arabiya television reported today, citing unidentified Saudi officials, that Saleh is in stable condition and has only “minor burns” on his body.
Even as the outlook for Yemen is mired in uncertainty, in Libya, the UN-sanctioned and NATO-enforced air campaign has yielded results.
Airstrikes in the past month have pushed Qaddafi loyalists out of the western port city of Misrata and aided some of the rebel gains in the Berber highlands in the west.
Since the start of its March 31 mission, NATO has completed 3,860 so-called strike sorties, when warplanes identify targets though don’t always fire munitions, according to an e-mailed statement today. Among the targets hit yesterday were five command and control facilities and one vehicle storage facility.
Jalal el-Gallal, a spokesman for the rebels’ National Transitional Council, said fighters “completely liberated” the western mountain town of Yefren yesterday.
Qaddafi’s regime has also been weakened by mass defections, the latest top oil official Shokri Ghanem.
Libyan generals, two colonels and a major defected to rebel forces at the end of May, bringing the total of army officers who have left Qaddafi to 120, Libya’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Abdel Rahman Shalgham, said on May 30.
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