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State and WH officials met with Qaddafi reps in Tunisia

Only one day after extending diplomatic recognition to the Libyan rebels, three top Obama administration officials met with representatives of the Qaddafi regime in Tunisia, a State Department official confirmed. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz, and National Security Staff Senior Director for Strategic Planning ...

Only one day after extending diplomatic recognition to the Libyan rebels, three top Obama administration officials met with representatives of the Qaddafi regime in Tunisia, a State Department official confirmed.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz, and National Security Staff Senior Director for Strategic Planning Derek Chollet met with as-yet unidentified Qaddafi representatives on Sunday, the official told reporters via e-mail late Monday afternoon but only to make sure they understood the U.S. position that Qaddafi must go.

Only one day after extending diplomatic recognition to the Libyan rebels, three top Obama administration officials met with representatives of the Qaddafi regime in Tunisia, a State Department official confirmed.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz, and National Security Staff Senior Director for Strategic Planning Derek Chollet met with as-yet unidentified Qaddafi representatives on Sunday, the official told reporters via e-mail late Monday afternoon but only to make sure they understood the U.S. position that Qaddafi must go.

"We had heard frequently from senior Libyan officials who evinced a sense that U.S. was in different place from others," the official wrote, adding that the officials "wanted to send a crystal clear message face to face" that there was no room for negotiation over that one point.

Because the information was sent to reporters over e-mail, there was no opportunity to ask follow up questions, such as whether any other negotiations regarding the war in Libya were discussed. Several requests for additional comment from the State Department and the National Security Staff were declined.

But, according to the official, if the goal of the meeting really was to convey to that Qaddafi must go, it was a success.

"Based on feedback from others who spoke to the Qadhafi officials, the United States’ message was received," the official wrote, adding that other allies as well as the newly-recognized Transitional National Council were consulted about the meeting.

And don’t expect this to be the start of a process.

"We support the United Nations channel and there will be no U.S. channel," the official said. "This was a one-time occurrence."

In another statement, delivered to reporters in New Delhi, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling, the official elaborated a bit further.

The meeting was held "to deliver a clear and firm message that the only way to move forward is for Gaddafi to step down," the official said. "This was not a negotiation. It was the delivery of a message."

UPDATE: An administration official responded to The Cable‘s requests late Monday evening and said the meeting was around 3 hours long and was initiated from the U.S. side.

"Did we set it up, sure. We wanted to go deliver this message," the official said. "We decided that it would be a good idea to make clear that it very clear, face to face, in an unambiguous way, that we support the U.N. channel and they won’t get another track out of us." 

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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