The suggestion coming out of Paris and London that Col. Muammar Qaddafi may be allowed to stay in Libya if he agrees to leave power raises some tricky questions.
What would become of the International Criminal Court indictment accusing him of war crimes and crimes against humanity?
Even if Britain and France assured the colonel he would not be sent to The Hague or put on trial within the country, how could they guarantee that a new Libyan government would honor such conditions indefinitely?
What would be required to protect him from constant threats or attempts at assassination by those who have fought against him?
What would need to be done to make sure that, as a civilian, he would not become involved in plots to regain power?
And, finally, what evidence is there to suggest that the colonel would be willing to accept such a deal, even if it could include ironclad guarantees of his safety?
The proposal to leave Colonel Qaddafi in situ but powerless smacks almost of a desperation measure to end a military stalemate and, if possible, to do it before the beginning of Ramadan on Aug. 1 is likely to prolong the stalemate.
The French first raised the possibility of a deal with the Libyan ruler that would provide a compromise solution to the ongoing military conflict and bring leaders of the Transitional National Council to power.
Britain joined with the French on Monday when Foreign Secretary William Hague met in London with his French counterpart Alain Juppe.
“What happens to Qaddafi is ultimately a question for the Libyans,” Mr. Hague said. “It is for the Libyan people to determine their own future. Whatever happens, Qaddafi must leave power.
“He must never again be able to threaten the lives of Libyan civilians nor to destabilize Libya once he has left power.
“Obviously, leaving Libya itself would be the best way of showing the Libyan people they no longer have to live in fear of Qaddafi. But as I have said all along, this is ultimately a question for Libyans to determine.”
Significantly, Libyan rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalili has said recently, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, that Colonel Qaddafi and his family could stay in the country if they gave up power.
That is a concession that may have been made under pressure from the Western powers supporting the rebel movement. But the rebels are said to be anxious to avoid the bloodbath that almost surely would result from an eventual assault on Tripoli, the capital and the Qaddafi power base.
Previously President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have said that the colonel must leave the country.
British press reports said Britain hopes to tempt Mr. Qaddafi to leave Libya by suggesting he go to a country that does not recognize the International Criminal Court. Belorussia and Zimbabwe have been mentioned in that regard.
As the fate of the Libyan leader was discussed, NATO stepped up its attacks on Libyan government military installations.
The RAF dropped precision weapons on the Central Organization for Electronic Research, which previously was responsible for a long-range missile development program.
Maj. Gen. Nick Pope, Britain’s chief military spokesman, said intensive surveillance had revealed the building was still being “actively used by his security apparatus to repress the civilian population.”
Earlier, RAF planes were reported to have breached the walls of Colonel Qaddafi’s command complex, the vast Bab al-Aziziyah compound in central Libya. “It is not just his personal residence but more importantly is also the main headquarters for his regime,” General Pope said.
(Ray Moseley is a London-based chief European correspondent of the Chicago Tribune and has worked extensively in the Middle East. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)