Monday, June 27, 2011

Qaddafi Charges Raise Stakes for U.S. Leadership on Libya: View

Libya won’t go from ‘Gadhafi to Thomas Jefferson,’ Baird concedes

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says he's pleasantly surprised at the calibre of Libya's rebel council members after taking a secret trip to meet them Monday.
Mr. Baird said the group preparing to take power once the country's dictator, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, is ousted has a strong dedication to democracy, but he added no one should expect that transition to take place overnight.

“Our vision is a strong, prosperous Libya, living in freedom and living peacefully with its neighbours,” Mr. Baird said after meeting with anti-Gadhafi rebels and delivering trauma kits to help their cause.
“I was frankly surprised– pleasantly” at the capabilities of the rebel council members, he said. “I was very impressed with them.”
But, he added, “I don't think we're going to move from Gadhafi to Thomas Jefferson.” The post-Gadhafi regime, he cautioned, “won't be perfect.”
It's Mr. Baird's first big trip as Foreign Affairs Minister, aside from a jaunt to the G8 summit in France last month, and it came as a stalemate between Libyan dissident groups and Gadhafi forces prompted questions about whether the NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya is working.
“It was important to me to come here and get the facts for myself,” Mr. Baird told The Canadian Press. “We are doing our due diligence because that is what Canadians expect and the Libyan people require.”
Canada recently joined European and Arab countries in recognizing the National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.
Mr. Baird boarded a military transport aircraft in Rome about 9 a.m. local time, along with security, ministerial staff and the Canadian ambassador to Libya, Sandra McCardell.
He spent some of his air time up front in the cockpit, with a clear view of the length of Italy and the expansive Mediterranean Sea.
The aircraft landed about two hours later in Benghazi, well away from the front lines and now considered safe from the forces of long-time dictator Gadhafi.
Met by council officials, Mr. Baird spent half a day in the rebel-held city, travelling by motorcade past walls plastered with anti-Gadhafi graffiti. He met for 30 minutes with the coalition leader, Mahmoud Jibril, followed by a meeting with council board members.
“I was incredibly, incredibly moved by the courage and determination,” Mr. Baird said of rebels who gave him their firsthand accounts of battles with Gadhafi forces and subsequent escape to the safe haven of Benghazi. “It is a remarkable accomplishment.”
The group is setting itself up as an alternative to Col. Gadhafi. But some of Canada's allies fear the council's military strength and political know-how are too thin to do the job.
Behind closed doors, Mr. Baird presented Mr. Jabril with a letter from Prime Minister Stephen Harper inviting him to Canada to meet with officials and parliamentarians. He later met with his council counterpart, Ali Isawi, who denied reports that council members had discussed a peace deal with Col. Gadhafi’s representatives.
“We have no direct contact with the Gadhafi regime,” Mr. Isawi told reporters afterward. “But anything that can bring to an end the bloodshed, we will certainly look at it.”
Outside the meeting room, 12-year-old Retaj, who was wearing a traditional long burgundy gown adorned with silver, spoke about seeing her neighbours shot in battle.
She still had an enormous smile for the Canadian visitors and did not hide her enthusiasm for her people's revolution, nor her delight at receiving foreign recognition.
“We will win. Soon, “ she predicted in an interview.more.

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