SHANNON, Ireland (AFP) – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew Wednesday to the Gulf to consult with countries backing military action in Libya and looking at more ways to help the Libyan opposition.
The talks in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi on Thursday come after President Barack Obama said NATO’s mission in Libya was forging “inexorable” advances that meant it was only a matter of time before defiant Moamer Kadhafi’s departure.
The United States now appeared to be planning for a future without Kadhafi, just as questions arise whether a wounded Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh will be able to return from Saudi Arabia.
The so-called International Contact Group meeting will build on a May 5 gathering in Rome where Clinton and her partners agreed on a new fund to aid Libya’s rebels and promised to tap frozen assets of Kadhafi’s regime.
US officials said the participants will discuss a “range of issues,” including implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973.
Resolution 1970 imposed bans on assets and travel on members of Kadhafi’s regime as well as an arms embargo.
Resolution 1973 authorized “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians, including air strikes on Kadhafi’s ground forces and a no-fly zone.
The International Contact Group on Libya, which includes all the countries participating in the NATO-led campaign targeting Kadhafi’s regime, held its inaugural meeting in Qatar, which participates in the NATO mission.
NATO has intensified its campaign, launching daily raids on Tripoli, but only nine of NATO’s 28 member states are taking part in the strikes. France and Britain are bearing the brunt of the load with helicopters now in their arsenal.
The other countries are the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Italy and non-NATO state the United Arab Emirates.
Countries such as Spain and the Netherlands, and non-NATO partner Sweden, have contributed combat jets but their roles are limited to enforcing the no-fly zone aimed at preventing Kadhafi attack planes from taking off.
Turkey, which reluctantly backed the mission, is only participating in the naval embargo.
Weeks of air strikes on regime targets have thus far failed to force Kadhafi out, but Obama nevertheless insisted that he was on borrowed time after a brutal four-decades-long rule.
The president, criticized by some domestic opponents for allowing Britain and France to take the lead in the NATO mission after an initial US blitz, argued that the effort had already achieved substantial goals.
“What you’re seeing across the country is a inexorable trend of the regime forces being pushed back, being incapacitated,” he said on Tuesday.
“You’re seeing defections, often times of some very high-profile members of the Kadhafi government, as well as the military.
“I think it is just a matter of time before Kadhafi goes.”
The talks in Abu Dhabi could compete with events in Yemen where protesters urged Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi to lead a transfer of power in the country, as Saleh recovered in Saudi Arabia from wounds inflicted during an attack on his palace.
After Abu Dhabi, Clinton will travel to Zambia, Tanzania and Ethiopia to discuss trade, development, health and other issues.