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Diplomats Meet To Plan Post-Gadhafi Libya

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep, good morning.

The world has changed in many ways in the last few months, but one thing remains the same: Moammar Gadhafi is still in power in Libya's capital. Diplomats including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are gathering today in search of a way to remove him.

NPR's Michele Kelemen is covering the meeting in the city of Abu Dhabi by the Persian Gulf.

Hi, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Is anything on the table here that has not been tried in previous diplomatic meetings over Libya?

KELEMEN: Well, there doesn't seem to be anything really new on the table. But there is certainly a new atmosphere. This is the third meeting of what's called the Contact Group on Libya. And U.S. officials traveling with Secretary Clinton say this meeting comes amid growing momentum for change in Libya. You know, there's been a lot more intensive bombing by NATO. One official actually told us earlier this week - on a day when there was pretty intense bombing in Tripoli - he got a call from Libyans close to Gadhafi asking: why are you doing this?

So officials definitely feel as if the pressure is mounting on Gadhafi and those around him. And they also say that more and more countries are promising to help the rebel government.

INSKEEP: When you talk about helping the rebel government, could that help include cash which the rebels say they are running out of?

KELEMEN: They do need it. And US officials say they understand the urgency of it and "won't let the TNC go under." That was the quote that officials were telling us last night.

INSKEEP: Oh, the Transitional National Council being the rebel government?

KELEMEN: Exactly. But, you know, Congress is still working on legislation that would allow the U.S. to use some of the frozen Libyan assets to help that opposition government. And the U.S. also announced that the first shipment of oil that was sold by that rebel government to an American refining company has just arrived in Hawaii, actually, of all places. But again, this is all still a work in progress. And the U.S. is clearly counting on others here at the meeting, you know, Arab States in particular to do more to help out.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about something that has caused some governments to hesitate, somewhat, in helping the rebels. And that is their uncertainty about who these guys are, how they would run Libya if they were running it, and whether they are ready. Do diplomats think they're ready?

KELLY: Thats one of the things they're really talking about here. There is a representative of the government. At least U.S. officials - there do seem to be some lingering doubt. You know, one official said the Transitional National Council is making incremental progress, but he couldn't say that they'd be ready to take over Libya tomorrow if Gadhafi fell. And there are obviously a lot of unknowns, you know, how would this group restore security in Tripoli if Gadhafi fell, for instance.

The flipside of this is I am not sure that U.S. government or of many of the countries involved here are really ready to manage this either. I mean they're still talking about what an end-game might look like, and what do you do about Gadhafi. One official told us on the plane that there've been general discussions about that, but no specific offers for exile, no plan on where he should go or whether he should remain in Libya.

INSKEEP: So no one is volunteering to provide him a new home?

KELEMEN: At least nothing specific on the table that we know of.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about one other thing before I let you go, Michele Kelemen. Of course, we're in the midst of this Arab Spring, there're uprisings everywhere. One place thats particularly chaotic, now, is Yemen after the president left. Are diplomats also discussing that?

KELEMEN: Yes. You know, I mean the mantra of the Obama administration in all these Arab uprisings has been to support an orderly transition, and that's clearly not what's happening in Yemen. President Ali Abdullah Saleh was wounded in an explosion last week. He's recuperating in Saudi Arabia and there are indications that he'll be there for a while. The U.S. has been encouraging him to agree to a transition plan offered by Gulf States, and that's really going to a dominant theme of Clinton's meetings here.

INSKEEP: So in both countries, the question of a transition of what happens after the leader falls, that's the key question and the hard question.

KELEMEN: It's a very hard question. And, you know, Steve, Yemen is the Arab world's poorest country so there's lots of concerns that it can't handle this instability for very long. The economy is collapsing. There are fears of a potential refugee crisis. And, you know, the U.S. worried about this terrorist group called Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, that they could take advantage of this instability, as well.

INSKEEP: NPR's Michele Kelemen in Abu Dhabi, thanks very much.

KELEMEN: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.