(See EXTRA and MET for more on Middle East unrest.)
June 8 (Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to Abu Dhabi to discuss with NATO allies the outlook for Libya without Muammar Qaddafi even as the focus may shift further east to Yemen, which is on the brink of civil war.
With North Atlantic Treaty Organization jets stepping up daytime strikes on the Libyan capital of Tripoli, the United Arab Emirates will host Clinton and other members of the 22- nation Libya Contact Group on June 9. Qaddafi yesterday said “martyrdom is a million times better” than surrender, in his first broadcast comments in more than three weeks.
President Barack Obama renewed his demand that Qaddafi leave as a growing chorus of world leaders predicted the demise of the Libyan dictator, who after a 42-year rule has failed to crush a popular uprising that began mid-February.
Qaddafi “must step down and hand power to the Libyan people,” Obama said yesterday at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington. “The pressure will only continue to increase until he does.”
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said this week Qaddafi is now “part of Libya’s past,” signaling the time has come to start planning for the aftermath. Qaddafi remains in control of the capital, in the country’s west, even though rebels are running most of eastern Libya.
In London, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told lawmakers in the House of Commons that the “Qaddafi regime is isolated and on the defensive.” Merkel, standing next to Obama, said “Qaddafi needs to step down and he will step down.”
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 phone 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 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 that is consistent with Yemen’s own constitution,” Clinton said on 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.
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, which is in rebel hands, and aided some of their gains in the Berber highlands in the west.
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 Libyan army officers who have left Qaddafi to 120, Libya’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Abdel Rahman Shalgham, said on May 30.
The Libyan leader may be stepping up efforts to find a settlement. Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Ati Al-Obeidi arrived in China today for a three-day visit, after China yesterday confirmed its diplomats had met with rebel leaders.
Al-Obeidi’s itinerary includes a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing today. Hong said yesterday that diplomats from the Chinese Embassy in Egypt recently met officials from the Libyan rebel Interim Transitional National Council in Benghazi.
Defense ministers from the 28-member alliance begin a two- day meeting today in Brussels and will discuss progress in the UN-mandated mission in Libya.
--With assistance from Nicole Gaouette in Washington, Nayla Razzouk in Amman, Patrick Donahue in Berlin, Caroline Alexander and Thomas Penny in London and Michael Forsythe in Beijing. Editors: John Brinsley, Mark Williams
To contact the reporters on this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson in Abu Dhabi at Fjackson@bloomberg.net
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at firstname.lastname@example.org; Mark Silva at email@example.com