WASHINGTON >> The Obama administration has begun seeking a country, most likely in Africa, that might be willing to provide shelter to Moammar Gadhafi 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 Gadhafi has been conducted quietly by the United States and its allies, even though the Libyan leader has shown defiance in recent days, parading through Tripoli’s streets and declaring that he has no intention of yielding to demands that he leave his country.
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 103 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 Gadhafi an incentive to abandon his stronghold in Tripoli.
The move by the United States to find a haven for Gadhafi may help explain how the White House is attempting to enforce President Barack Obama’s declaration that the Libyan leader must leave the country but without violating Obama’s refusal to put troops on the ground.
The U.N. Security Council has authorized military strikes to protect the Libyan population, but not to oust the country’s leadership. But 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 Gadhafi a haven, but he did not identify them.
Even though Gadhafi has had close business dealings with the leaders of countries like Chad, Mali and Zimbabwe, and there have been pro-Gadhafi rallies elsewhere recently across the continent, it was unclear which, if any, nations were emerging as likely candidates to take in Gadhafi. The African Union has been quietly sounding out potential hosts, but those negotiations have been closely guarded.
As the drama over Gadhafi’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 Gadhafi’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.
Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to 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.
The alliance has never run such a complex air campaign with so many mobile targets. That has put pressure on CIA operatives and British special operations forces on the ground to help provide target information.
In addition, a senior U.S. military official said that NATO countries flying ground-attack missions operate under different degrees of caution when striking targets that could hurt civilians or damage mosques, schools and hospitals nearby. 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 Gadhafi 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 Gadhafi depart already, they believe that pressure is building.
“There are aspectsB of the passage of time that work against Gadhafi, if we can cut him off from weapons, material and cash,” 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.”
Perhaps the most prominent member of the government in waiting is Mahmoud Jibril, a planning expert who defected from Gadhafi’s government. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has met twice with 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. 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. The rebels are proclaiming his American credentials — he has a doctorate from Michigan State University — as they seek foreign recognition of their cause.
“With respect to the opposition, we are learning more all the time,” 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.”
Clinton told NATO ministers that the coalition had acknowledged that 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.”