U.S., Allies Search For Gaddafi Refuge Site


The Obama administration has begun seeking a country, most likely in Africa, that might be willing to provide shelter to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi if he were forced out of Libya, even as a new wave of intelligence reports suggest that no rebel leader has emerged as a credible successor to the Libyan dictator.

The intense search for a country to accept Colonel Qaddafi has been conducted quietly by the United States and its allies, even though the Libyan leader has shown defiance in recent days, declaring that he has no intention of yielding to demands that he leave his country, and intensifying his bombardment of the rebel city of Misurata.

The effort is complicated by the likelihood that he would be indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988, and atrocities inside Libya.

One possibility, according to three administration officials, is to find a country that is not a signatory to the treaty that requires countries to turn over anyone under indictment for trial by the court, perhaps giving Colonel Qaddafi an incentive to abandon his stronghold in Tripoli.

The move by the United States to find a haven for Colonel Qaddafi may help explain how the White House is trying to enforce President Obama’s declaration that the Libyan leader must leave the country but without violating Mr. Obama’s refusal to put troops on the ground.

The United Nations Security Council has authorized military strikes to protect the Libyan population, but not to oust the leadership. But Mr. Obama and the leaders of Britain and France, among others, have declared that to be their goals, apart from the military campaign.

“We learned some lessons from Iraq, and one of the biggest is that Libyans have to be responsible for regime change, not us,” one senior administration official said on Saturday. “What we’re simply trying to do is find some peaceful way to organize an exit, if the opportunity arises.”

About half of the countries in Africa have not signed or ratified the Rome Statute, which requires nations to abide by commands from the international court. (The United States has also not ratified the statute, because of concerns about the potential indictment of its soldiers or intelligence agents.) Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini, suggested late last month that several African countries could offer Colonel Qaddafi a haven, but he did not identify them.

Even though Colonel Qaddafi has had close business dealings with the leaders of countries like Chad, Mali and Zimbabwe, and there have been pro-Qaddafi rallies elsewhere recently across the continent, it was unclear which, if any, nations were emerging as likely candidates to take in Colonel Qaddafi. The African Union has been quietly sounding out potential hosts, but those negotiations have been closely guarded.

As the drama over Colonel Qaddafi’s future has intensified, new details are emerging of the monthlong NATO bombing campaign, which, in the minds of many world leaders, has expanded into a campaign to press the Libyan military and Colonel Qaddafi’s aides to turn against him.

That effort has gone more slowly than some expected; after the defection of the former intelligence chief, Moussa Koussa, no other senior officials have broken with the man who has ruled Libya for 42 years.

Six countries — Britain, Norway, Denmark, France, Canada and Belgium — have provided more than 60 aircraft that are conducting airstrikes against Libyan targets that attack civilians. But NATO commanders say they are still struggling to come up with at least eight more warplanes to ensure the alliance can sustain a longer-term operation and relieve strain on pilots now flying repeated combat missions.

The United States, which carried out the largest share of strike missions before handing off control of the operation to NATO on April 4, has promised additional fighter-bombers and ground-attack planes if NATO requests them. While some European officials have privately complained that the United States should resume a leading role in the missions, American officials say they have not received any formal requests for more aircraft.

Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to Mr. Obama, asserted that in a month’s time the coalition has accomplished three major objectives: saving the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi from becoming the site of a civilian atrocity, setting up an international command to protect civilians and clear the skies of Libyan aircraft, and providing modest amounts of humanitarian assistance.

Still, the NATO countries flying ground-attack missions operate under different degrees of caution when striking targets that could hurt civilians or damage mosques, schools or hospitals, complicating the campaign, a senior American military official said. Some pilots have refused to drop their bombs for this reason, the official said, but allied air-war planners cannot predict which pilots will be matched against particular targets.

“Without a doubt, it is frustrating working through all this to get maximum effect for our efforts and dealing with all these variants,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid upsetting coalition partners.

American officials concede that the rebel leaders have not settled on who might succeed Colonel Qaddafi if he is ousted, and some fear that tribal warfare could break out if there is no consensus figure who could bind the country together.

White House officials say that while they would have liked to see Colonel Qaddafi depart already, they believe that pressure is building.

“There are aspects of the passage of time that work against Qaddafi, if we can cut him off from weapons, material and cash,” Mr. Rhodes said. He added that “it affects the calculations of the people around him. But it will take time for the opposition group to gel.”

This month, an American envoy, Chris Stevens, was sent to Benghazi to learn more about the Transitional National Council. The group has pledged to work toward new presidential and parliamentary elections after Colonel Qaddafi’s ouster, uphold human rights, draft a constitution and encourage the formation of political parties. Mr. Stevens is expected to stay as long as a month, security permitting, State Department officials said.

The United Nations special envoy to Libya, Abdelilah al-Khatib, a former Jordanian foreign minister, is also meeting with opposition figures, as well as with members of Colonel Qaddafi’s government to explore possible diplomatic settlement.

Perhaps the most prominent member of the government in waiting is Mahmoud Jibril, a planning expert who defected from the Qaddafi government. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has met twice with Mr. Jibril, who American diplomats say is the group’s most polished and savvy public figure. He also spoke to several NATO, Arab and African ministers who gathered in Doha, Qatar, last Wednesday to discuss the Libya crisis.

Another leading council member is Ali Tarhouni, who was appointed finance minister of the rebels’ shadow government. Mr. Tarhouni, who teaches economics at the University of Washington, returned to Libya in February after more than 35 years in exile to advise the opposition on economic matters.

“With respect to the opposition, we are learning more all the time,” Mrs. Clinton said in Berlin on Friday. “We are pooling our information. There are a number of countries that have significant ties to members of the oppositions, who have a presence in Benghazi that enables them to collect information. Our envoy is still in Benghazi and meeting with a broad cross-section of people.”

Mrs. Clinton told NATO ministers that the coalition had acknowledged the transitional council was “a legitimate and important interlocutor for the Libyan people.” She added: “We all need to deepen our engagement with and increase our support for the opposition.”