I attended a discussion yesterday with the Libyan rebels' representative in Washington, Ali Aujali, who insisted that the rebels would never accept a deal whereby one of Muammar Gadhafi's sons could take over from their father, as his son Saif al-Islam has proposed. The younger Gadhafi told the BBC that his father could assume a ceremonial role like "the Queen of England."
"Gadhafi and his family have to leave, there is no compromise on this," said Aujali. He is Gadhafi's former ambassador to Washington who defected after one of the dictator's sons, Saif al-Islam, called for a no-mercy-on-civilians assault on the rebel capital of Benghazi. A slight bald man in a grey suit jacket, lavender shirt, and dark tie, Aujali looked rather lost at his eagerly awaited appearance at the Center for American Progress think tank (you can watch his appearance here.)
Aujali offered little clarity about the leadership of the rebellion, which, he said, included some former Gadhafi officials, who had resigned when they saw "reform was not possible." When I asked if the rebels could win militarily, he insisted they could - if they received arms and training. While admitting that rebel fighters had performed badly, he said things would improve now that army units that had defected were taking the lead.
The rebels" spokesman urged the United States to recognize the transitional council, as Italy did this week, and give it access to frozen assets of the Gadhafi regime. "We cannot trust Gadhafi or any initiative he presents," Aujali said. "He is playing for time. Pressure must be on him all the time. He has lost touch with reality and doesn't believe the people don't want him."
Still unclear, of course, is who can/will train the rag-tag Libyan rebels to fight (French or British commandoes?), or whether potent U.S. aircraft will fly any more missions, or whether the Gadhafi regime will crumble internally. Rebels have been retreating, yet again, after Western airstrikes diminished or stopped in the wake of the U.S. turnover over command of the Libyan mission to NATO.
"For the United States to continue to be a major player in this crisis, this is very important," Aujali said. "What Americans are doing now will change the image of the United States in the Arab world. It will show that Americans not only go because they have interests...they go to support people who are willing to die for their cause."