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US not ruling out arming Libyan rebels

The United States says it hasn't ruled out the option of arming Libyan rebels in their struggle against Gadhafi troops, however others have warned that the move would require a new UN resolution.

A Libyan rebel waves a flag

The Libyan rebellion has drawn global attention

US President Barack Obama has left open the possibility of arming the Libyan rebels in their fight against Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

"I'm not ruling it out, but I'm also not ruling it in," he told US media Tuesday.

At Tuesday's international conference on Libya's future in London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that while the issue of supplying arms to the rebels had not been discussed, it would be legal under the current UN resolution.

His French counterpart Alain Juppe said his country was ready to discuss the option with allies, but at the moment arming the rebels would contradict UN resolutions banning arms imports to Libya.

At the same time, delegates at the conference stepped up their efforts to aid Libya in its post-Gadhafi political future, by agreeing to set up a contact group to coordinate international action.

Diplomats at the London conference

World leaders met in London to discuss Libya's future

In a statement, Hague said the contact group would "provide leadership and overall political direction to the international effort in close coordination with the [United Nations, African Union, Arab League, Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the European Union] to support Libya."

The first meeting of the group is to be hosted by Qatar and is to be convened as soon as possible. Qatar has agreed to facilitate the sale of Libyan oil, Hague added.

Hague also said additional sanctions against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and members of his regime were being considered.

Gadhafi's uncertain future

The UK was especially keen to emphasize the role Arab nations are now playing in enforcing UN resolutions 1970 and 1973 in Libya. In addition to offering to host the first meeting of the Libya Contact Group, Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad said time was running out for Gadhafi.

"We urge Gadhafi and his people to leave and not to cause any more bloodshed. I think this is the only solution to solve this problem," he said. "Right now we don't see any indication of that. We offer this now, but it might not be on the table after a few days."

That exposes one of the divisions in the international community. Italy and Germany have been among the countries suggesting Colonel Gadhafi should be allowed to go into exile, without fear of prosecution, as a way of ending the conflict in Libya.

Britain has maintained Gadhafi should face war crimes prosecution. Hague says his country will not be involved in finding a haven for the Libyan leader.

"We're not engaged in the United Kingdom in looking for somewhere for him to go," Hague said. "That doesn't exclude others doing so."

A fighter plane

The UN has mandated allied airstrikes

Libyan destiny

International dignitaries also held talks behind the scenes with Libyan opposition figures who flew to London. These meetings have been low-key, however, with the coalition not wanting to appear that they are anointing a new government.

"We cannot - and must not - attempt to impose our will on the people of Libya," said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the meeting. "But we can - and must - stand with them as they determine their own destiny."

Author: Rob Mudge, Olly Barrett, Matt Zuvela (AFP, AP)

Editor. Rob Turner

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