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Russian Diplomacy Plays Uncertain Role In Libya


NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Tripoli and has the story.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: During his visit to Tripoli last Thursday, Russian envoy Mikhail Margelov told the BBC that his government's position hasn't changed.

MIKHAIL MARGELOV: The key factor is what Libyans think about the future of Libya. And my feeling is that Libyans think about the future of Libya without Gadhafi as a political leader.

SARHADDI NELSON: But the envoy also said that Gadhafi should be part of any national reconciliation. The Libyan government quickly embraced that opening. The envoy was treated like an honored guest and met with both the Libyan foreign minister and prime minister.

AL: (Arabic language spoken)

SARHADDI NELSON: Afterwards, Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi said his government was willing to entertain Russian proposals.

AL: (Arabic language spoken)

SARHADDI NELSON: But the prime minister was adamant about two points his country won't budge on, not even for the Russians.

AL: (Through Translator) One, is that the Libyan borders must remain intact. The second is that Moammar Gadhafi is the leader of this country and our symbol. This is exactly what I told the representative of his Excellency, the president of Russia.

SARHADDI NELSON: Alexei Podsterob was Russia's ambassador to Libya in the '90s. Reached by phone, he sympathized with the Libyan prime minister's stance on Gadhafi.

ALEXEI PODSTEROB: It's a logical position from my viewpoint. But what is unlogical(ph) is the position of Benghazi, of the National Transitional Council, which demands as a condition of the beginning of the talks, the retreat of Gadhafi from power. This position blocks the beginning of the talks between the parties.

SARHADDI NELSON: Russian analysts say that doesn't mean talks can't happen, and that their country is in a good position to make that happen. Sergey Mikheev heads the Center for Current Policy in Moscow, a think tank which advises the government.

SERGEY MIKHEEV: (Russian language spoken)

SARHADDI NELSON: In an earlier interview with NPR, the former ambassador, Podsterob, said his country also has an advantage because of its ties to Libyan officials who've left Gadhafi's government to join the rebels.

PODSTEROB: We know the situation of the country. We know people. We know how to speak with them.

SARHADDI NELSON: But a day after the Russian envoy's visit to Tripoli, the two Libyan sides seemed farther apart than ever.

MOAMMAR GADHAFI: (Arabic language spoken)

SARHADDI NELSON: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Tripoli.

LYDEN: NPR correspondent David Greene contributed to this report from Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.