London — International powers meet in London on Tuesday to map out a post-Qadhafi future for Libya with France and Britain urging the rebels to lead a push for democracy.
More than 35 countries, including seven Arab states, gather as rebel gains made in part thanks to Western air strikes have been halted by government forces on the outskirts of Muammar Qadhafi's birthplace, Sirte.
Britain, France, Germany and the United States had agreed that the London talks should aid "the political transition in Libya," said a French presidency statement.
And in a pre-meeting video conference with his fellow leaders Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron said he hoped the summit would "strengthen and broaden the coalition of countries committed to implementing the UN resolutions."
Later Monday, in an address to the nation, President Barack Obama warned that a military campaign to oust Muammar Qadhafi could repeat the bloodshed and misery of Iraq.
"If we tried to overthrow Qadhafi by force, our coalition would splinter. We would likely have to put US troops on the ground, or risk killing many civilians from the air," the president argued.
Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy had earlier issued a joint call for Qadhafi to go because his regime "has completely lost its legitimacy" and his followers should desert Qadhafi "before it is too late."
They urged Libya's rebel national council and civil society leaders to steer the country towards democracy.
"We call on all Libyans who believe that Qadhafi is leading Libya into a disaster to take the initiative now to organize a transition process," the British and French leaders said.
The path to transition "could include the Interim National Transitional Council," the main rebel representatives, who should "begin a national political dialogue, leading to a representative process of transition, constitutional reform and preparation for free and fair elections."
France is the only Western country to have officially recognized the rebels. Qatar followed suit on Monday.
On the sidelines of the meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who flew into London late Monday, may hold talks with Mahmoud Jibril, the Libyan opposition leader whom she met in Paris two weeks ago.
However, the British government could not confirm if any opposition representatives would be present in London.
The West decided at a meeting in the French capital on 19 March to authorize military action in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which called for citizens to be protected from pro-regime forces and a no-fly zone to be implemented.
Ten days later, hundreds of strikes on Qadhafi's tanks and armoured cars have transformed the opposition campaign, allowing rebels to push westwards from their stronghold of Benghazi and gain control of a string of towns.
NATO finally agreed Sunday to take over full command of military operations in Libya from a US-led coalition, resolving an issue which has dogged international thinking.
US leader Obama confirmed during his address that NATO would take command of all coalition military operations on Wednesday.
While France, Britain and the United States have driven forward the military action on Libya, they have been determined to ensure Arab nations are seen to be supporting their efforts.
Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Qatar, Tunisia and Morocco will all be represented on Tuesday, as well as the Arab League.
But Russia, whose Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has criticized the West's military action, saying it goes beyond the terms of the Security Council resolution, said it had not been invited.
Italy, Libya's former colonial masters, appeared to have taken the British hosts by surprise when Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he would present a plan to offer Qadhafi exile.
But an Italian foreign ministry spokesman later played down the initiative, saying it was only just beginning to discuss proposals on the post-Qadhafi era.