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Originally published Monday, March 28, 2011 at 11:59 PM

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World powers meet in UK to plot Libya endgame

International leaders were gathering in London on Tuesday seeking to plot out an endgame for Moammar Gadhafi's tottering regime and to strike agreement on plans for Libya's future.

Associated Press

LONDON —

International leaders were gathering in London on Tuesday seeking to plot out an endgame for Moammar Gadhafi's tottering regime and to strike agreement on plans for Libya's future.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Arab League and as many as 40 global foreign ministers were joining the talks - seeking to ratchet up pressure on Gadhafi to quit.

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said several nations planned to table a joint deal aimed at swiftly ending the conflict, setting out proposals for a cease-fire, exile for Gadhafi and a framework for talks on Libya's future between tribal leaders and opposition figures.

Britain and the United States signaled ahead of the talks that they could accept a plan under which Gadhafi quickly leaves Libya and in return escapes a war crimes trial, despite a previous insistence that he must face the International Criminal Court.

"There are some African countries that could offer him hospitality. I hope that the African Union can come up with a valid proposal," Frattini said Monday.

African Union chairman Jean Ping will attend the talks at London's Lancaster House alongside delegates who include Qatar's emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani and foreign ministers from Morocco, the UAE, Jordan and Iraq.

Gadhafi "must understand that it would be a gesture of courage on his part to say `I am leaving'," Frattini said.

Turkey, which has offered to attempt to mediate a permanent cease-fire, also said the talks would gauge international support for scenarios under which Gadhafi could retreat into exile.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague, who was hosting the summit, said Tuesday that - while the U.K. hoped Gadhafi would face international justice - it was down to Libyans to decide his fate.

"Of course where he goes, if he goes, is up to him and the people of Libya to determine and we will not necessarily be in control of that," Hague told BBC radio.

International allies were "not going to choose Col. Gadhafi's retirement home," he added.

Hague and Clinton met Tuesday with Libyan opposition envoy Mahmoud Jibril - who was holding talks in London, but not attending the main conference.

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"We discussed the current political and humanitarian situation in Libya. We agreed on the absolute importance of protecting and safeguarding civilians in Libya," Hague said following his talks with Jibril.

He said he had asked Jibril for his "assessment of the humanitarian needs in Libya and priorities for international assistance."

A senior U.S. administration official said the U.S. would also soon send diplomat Chris Stevens to Benghazi to meet with rebel leaders.

In a joint statement, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Jibril's Interim National Transitional Council could play a key role in deciding Libya's future following Gadhafi's potential ouster.

The leaders said that the transitional council and "civil society leaders, as well as all those prepared to join the process of transition to democracy," should begin work to decide how Libya moves toward democratic elections. They said Gadhafi loyalists were facing a final chance to ditch support for the dictator and side with those seeking political reform.

Sarkozy and Cameron discussed the meeting late Monday in a video conference with President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In a speech Monday night at the National Defense University at Fort McNair, Obama said the London talks would decide on what political effort would be needed - alongside military action - to increase pressure on Gadhafi.

"While our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives, we continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to its people," Obama said.

Libya's deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim told a news conference in Tripoli that foreign leaders had no right to attempt to impose a new political system on the country.

"Libya is an independent country with full sovereignty," he told reporters. "The Libyan people are the only ones that have the right decide the country's future, and planting division of Libya or imposing a foreign political system is not accepted."

Kaim called on nations attending the London talks to agree on a peace deal.

"We call upon Obama and the Western leaders to be peacemakers not war mongers, and not to push Libyans towards a civil war and more death and destruction," he said.

The London meeting - which will also be attended by NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen - was also expected to discuss disputes over the scope of NATO-led coalition airstrikes, and to more clearly define the extent of cooperation between Libya's rebel groups and international military commanders.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov - who will not attend the talks - has said the international air campaign which began March 19 has breached the terms of the U.N. resolution which authorized the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya.

Cameron insisted that the coalition had not gone beyond its remit, but acknowledged the impact had been to force Gadhafi's military into a retreat from a number of key towns.

"We should do everything we can to protect people and actually - as a result - that is actually driving back the Gadhafi regime," Cameron said.

Sarkozy and Cameron said in their joint statement that the military action would end only when civilians were free from the threat of attack.

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Hadeel al-Shalchi, in Tripoli, Bradley Klapper in London and Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this report

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On the net:

Libya Conference: http://www.thelibyaconference.com/

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