TIME Libya

This Is How the West Tried to Persuade Gaddafi to Give Up Power

Prime Minister Tony Blair meeting Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi at his desert base outside Sirte, south of Tripoli on May 29, 2007.
Stefan Rousseau—AP Prime Minister Tony Blair meeting Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi at his desert base outside Sirte, south of Tripoli on May 29, 2007.

Gaddafi's desperation and instransigence are palpable

The U.K. Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee has released the transcripts of two phone calls between former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the late leader of Libya, in which Blair delicately tries to get Gaddafi give up power.

“If you have a safe place to go, you should go there because this will not end peacefully.” said Blair, who was acting on behalf of the U.S., Russia, the E.U and the U.N. as a Middle East envoy.

The transcripts, from Feb. 2011, are a rare window into the West’s attempt in 2011 to de-escalate the civil war in Libya, by trying to convince Gaddafi to leave his country peacefully.

In one conversation Gaddafi tells Blair that his country is being attacked by al-Qaeda. “They [jihadists] want to control the Mediterranean and then they will attack Europe,” he said.

Blair encourages Gaddafi first of all to stop attacking those rising against him and to instigate a political process. In the second conversation, he encourages Gaddafi to seek refuge or leave Libya.

During the two calls that, together, lasted nearly an hour, Gaddafi appears distrustful of the West, asking Blair if he sympathizes with al-Qaeda, and accusing him of trying to recolonize Libya with an intervention. Blair speaks very carefully, imploring Gaddafi at the end of the second call to “keep the lines open.”

Gaddafi did not take his advice, choosing instead to stay in power. In October of 2011, he was killed after he was found hiding in a culvert by rebels that opposed him. But his death has not led to stability – Libya is divided btween two warring governments and the al-Qaeda offshoot ISIS has thrived in the vacuum left by civil war.

Blair’s relationship with Gaddafi dates to at least 2003 when Gaddafi agreed to pay compensation to the victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and surrender two men suspected of planting the bomb on Pan-Am Flight 103. The deal was as part of a rapprochement with Europe and the U.S. which was largely brokered by Tony Blair and his government.

The Foreign Affairs Committee released the transcripts as part of an inquiry into Britain’s role in the military intervention in Libya in March of 2011.

Committee chair and Tory MP Crispin Blunt said the transcripts provide important insight into the British strategy for intervention in Libya becasue Gaddafi warned Blair about Islamic extremists during the call. “The Committee will want to consider whether Gaddafi’s prophetic warning of the rise of extremist militant groups following the collapse of the regime was wrongly ignored because of Gaddafi’s otherwise delusional take on international affairs,” he said. “The evidence that the Committee has taken so far in this inquiry suggests that western policy makers were rather less perceptive than Gaddafi about the risks of intervention for both the Libyan people and the western interests.”

You can read the transcripts of the two calls here and here.




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