Could Muammar al-Qaddafi remain in Libya if he agrees to give up power? It may sound hard to imagine, but as the conflict drags on and the stalemate shows no sign of ending, the idea is gaining traction -- even among Qaddafi's staunch opponents. Today, France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe suggested it was a possibility.
"One of the scenarios effectively envisaged is that he stays in Libya on one condition which I repeat - that he very clearly steps aside from Libyan political life," Juppe told France's LCI TV.
The solution would require some major legal maneuvering. The new Libyan government -- most likely made up of leaders of the Transitional National Council (TNC) -- would have to agree not to prosecute Qaddafi or his son for the deaths of thousands of people. Internationally, the move would certainly require some sort of Security Council agreement, since Qaddafi, after all, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes (and since any agreement would likely require some international oversight).
The fact that France is suggesting this is significant. It was, after all, one of the first countries to recognize the TNC, and it pushed other nations into supporting the NATO air campaign against Qaddafi. Other governments have hinted at a similar solution in the past -- though mainly countries outside the coalition. Recently, Konstantin Kosachyov, the chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia's lower house of parliament, said: "Probably what can be discussed is some kind of guarantees of his personal security, the security of members of his family."
Last week, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told journalists that "an exit strategy for Qaddafi to leave power, but not necessarily the country, should be sought."
Officially, Britain and the United States want Qaddafi to be handed over to the ICC, but even their positions have softened recently. British officials say they don't regard that demand as a "red line" in negotiations with Qaddafi. And today, in response to Juppe's statement, the United States made it clear the key was getting Qaddafi to leave power, after that, all things could be considered.
"He needs to remove himself from power," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "And then it's up to the Libyan people to decide."
Earlier this month, the head of the TNC even hinted that a solution that keeps Qaddafi in Libya was possible. Mustapha Abdul-Jalil told Reuters that the TNC had offered Qaddafi that very deal -- allowing him to stay in Libya if he resigned. (Abdul-Jalil quickly back-pedaled, however, saying the next day that while the TNC discussed that scenario internally, there was no "current or future possibility for Qaddafi to remain in Libya.")
So could a solution like this actually work? Qaddafi would need to be assured he would remain free and safe. Some reports have said he is pushing for a role for his son, Saif al-Islam, in a future government -- though it's highly unlikely the rebels would agree to that.
Another reported possibility is that the U.N. would protect him at his tribal home of Sabha in southwestern Libya. But that would require countries guaranteeing he wouldn't be handed over to the ICC at some point in the future. And that might be a step too far.