Recent developments in Arab countries

Syria’s Assad promises national dialogue, expanded pardon, legislative elections, constitution amendment, removal of article on Baath party

Western nations do not believe pledges will materialize

Azhar activates role, supports civil state in Egypt

EU expresses support for Yemeni vice president

Sultan Qaboos discuss region’s issues with Feltman

China recognizes Libya’s transitional council

SYRIA:

President Bashar al-Assad said on Monday talks could lead to a new constitution and even end his Baath party's monopoly on power, but he refused to reform Syria under "chaos," prompting a US call for "action, not words."

His remarks were condemned by pro-democracy activists who vowed that the "revolution" -- now in its fourth month -- must go on.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "What is important now is action, not words. A speech is just words."

European foreign ministers agreed to beef up sanctions on the embattled president over his regime's deadly crackdown on protests, with some calling on him to reform or "step down."

Assad acknowledged in his televised speech that Syria had reached a "turning point," but said dialogue could lead to a new constitution and end nearly five decades of Baath party dominance -- a key opposition demand.

"We can say that national dialogue is the slogan of the next stage," Assad said. "The national dialogue could lead to amendments of the constitution or to a new constitution."

Reform was "a total commitment in the interest of the nation," he added in his third speech to the nation since the protests began in mid-March.

Assad offered condolences to the families of "martyrs" killed in the unrest rocking the country, but said there could be "no development without stability, no reform in the face of sabotage and chaos."

"We make a distinction between those (with legitimate grievances) and the saboteurs who represent a small group which has tried to exploit the goodwill of the Syrian people for its own ends," he said.

But Nuland charged that the Syrian regime "supports itself through repression, corruption and fear" and rejected Assad's contention that the protest movement was the work of foreign instigators.

"We're just not buying it," she said.

Witnesses and opposition activists said Assad's speech was followed by protests in many parts of Syria, including the northern city of Aleppo, the central regions of Homs and Hama and in Damascus suburbs.

"The protesters condemned the speech which branded them as saboteurs, extremists," the head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP by telephone.

Sixty 60 demonstrators were arrested in Aleppo over the past 24 hours, he said.

His group says the violence has so far claimed the lives of 1,310 civilians and 341 security force members.

Opposition activists said Assad's speech failed to specify concrete steps -- namely the pullout of troops from besieged cities -- and only deepened the crisis.

The Coordination Committee, an umbrella group of activists, called for "the revolution to carry on until all its aims have been achieved."

"We consider any dialogue useless that does not turn the page on the current regime," it said in a statement received by AFP. Prominent human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, who was freed from five years in prison last month, called Assad's speech "disappointing."

"The key demands made by the people were not mentioned and the existence of a political crisis has been ignored," he said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Twitter: "Little new on how reforms will be implemented & when, or how he will end violence."

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in Luxembourg: "Some believe that there's still time for him to change his ways and commit to a (reform) process. For my part, I doubt it. I think that the point of no return has been reached."

And German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said of Assad: "He seems not to have understood the signs of the times."

EU foreign ministers agreed a resolution that the European Union was "actively" preparing to "expand its restrictive measures by additional designations with a view to achieving a fundamental change of policy by the Syrian leadership without delay."

It also said Assad's "credibility and leadership depend on the implementation of the reforms he himself announced."

The EU has been looking at adding firms and a dozen people to a blacklist of 23 people targeted by an asset freeze and travel ban which already includes Assad and key allies.

Western governments have also been circulating a draft UN Security Council resolution that would condemn Assad's crackdown on dissent, but Russia warned it would veto any such move.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told the Financial Times that he feared the text would be used as cover for Libya-style military action.

Meanwhile, as International Committee of the Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger began a two-day trip to Syria, the authorities took diplomats and journalists to what they said was the site of a mass grave of people killed by "armed groups."

The third such "mass grave" near the restive northern town of Jisr al-Shughur, the focus of military operations since June 12, contained at least 29 bodies, a Syrian military source told AFP.

The Syrian regime, besieged by street protests at home and condemnation abroad, on Wednesday lashed out at European governments for threatening a new round of sanctions and accused the West of trying to sow chaos and conflict in the Arab nation.

But Foreign Minister Walid Moallem also reiterated the president's call for national dialogue and spoke of democracy over the horizon — a bold assertion after more than four decades of iron-fisted rule by the Assad family and months of bloody reprisals.

It was the regime's latest attempt to blunt three months of widespread demonstrations, a movement that was inspired by pro-democracy upheavals elsewhere in the Mideast and that has persisted despite the reported killing of hundreds of protesters by security forces. A skeptical opposition rejected the overture while the Syrian military is occupying towns and shooting protesters. Seven were reported killed on Tuesday.

An official said the European Union is planning to hit the Syrian regime with more sanctions, targeting seven more individuals and four companies in a bid to stop the crackdown against protests. That would bring to 34 the number of Syrian individuals and entities that are hit with an asset freeze and travel ban.

The EU official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The 27-member bloc also has an embargo on sales of arms and equipment that can be used to suppress demonstrations.

Moallem said the suggestion "amounts to (an act) of war" and warned "we will forget that Europe is on the map."

"Stop intervening in Syria's affairs, do not stir chaos nor strife, the Syrian people ... are capable of making their own future away from you," he said. "Any external intervention is rejected."

The televised statements by the longtime trusted Assad aide also went beyond the vague promises of reform made Monday by President Bashar Assad and amounted to a rare official admission that Syria has ignored basic democratic principles.

In his speech, President Assad had said he was forming a committee to study constitutional amendments, including one that would open the way to political parties other than the ruling Baath Party. He said a package of reforms was expected by September or no later than the end of the year.

Moallem added a promise that the Damascus government would soon present "an unprecedented example of democracy" in the troubled Middle East.

"There will be social justice, equality before the law and accountability," he said, when asked about his vision for Syria in three months. But he gave no specifics.

Moallem called for regime opponents to enter into political talks, and urged Syrian exiles to return, pledging that "even the harshest opponent" of the regime will not be arrested.

"Whoever wants to test our seriousness should come to the national dialogue to be a partner in shaping the future," he said.

But a prominent dissident rejected the idea of talks. "There can be no dialogue when a gun is being held to your head," Damascus-based activist Hassan Abdul-Azim said.

Responding to Moallem's statements, the dissident Abdul-Azim said dialogue was impossible with the regime's security forces still cracking down on dissent. "Such a dialogue would provide a cover for the security crackdown," he told The Associated Press.

That view was echoed at the highest level of the United Nations later Wednesday, when Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told New York reporters he didn't see "much credibility" in the Assad statements "because the situation has been continuing."

The U.N. chief suggested unified Security Council action to pressure Syria "would be helpful." Russia and China have opposed such action.

The U.S. State Department also demanded action instead of words, saying the status quo was unacceptable.

"They've thrown around a lot of rhetoric, and meanwhile, they've used unremitting violence against innocent civilians," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

Syria dissidents noted that previous talk of reform has produced little change in Syria's autocratic system.

"We are not against dialogue in principle, but we currently have no confidence or guarantees that anything would be implemented," said London-based Syrian activist Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Among the opposition's demands is the withdrawal of Syrian troops from cities, trials for security personnel responsible for killing protesters and the release of all political prisoners.

The opposition estimates 1,400 people have been killed and 10,000 detained in the attempted suppression of the 3-month-old pro-democracy movement, which was inspired by successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Hundreds of soldiers and police officers have also been killed.

Activists said the sweeping arrests have continued even after Assad's speech. Abdul-Rahman and others said dozens of students were beaten and others detained, including female students, during a raid at Damascus University dormitories Tuesday night.

Abdul-Azim said the scattered opposition movement would announce within a week the formation of a National Coordination Council for democratic change, encompassing all groups inside and outside Syria.

The foreign minister sounded confident there would be no Western military intervention or no-fly zone over Syria, saying the international community is mired in the "scandals" of its military intervention in Libya.

Moallem added that Arab countries "without exception" support Damascus. The Arab League on Monday issued a statement of support for Syria and opposition to foreign intervention there.

Moallem also denied that Syrian allies Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement are helping the Damascus regime put down unrest. The U.S. has accused Iran of sending reinforcements and equipment to Syria.

EGYPT:

The grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, released a document that tried to shed light on Egypt's largest Islamic institution’s understanding of what it would mean to have Islam as a main source of legislation in the Constitution.

One of the main issues on the political scene is whether Egypt should have a religious constitution or a civil one and whether they’re mutually exclusive. According to Tayyeb, they are not.

As is the case with many questions regarding the role of religion in civil life, this issue was often open to controversy.

The Egyptian government’s flagship paper, Al-Ahram, therefore describes the document as “historic.”

The document states that Islamic jurisprudence does not denote the need for a “priestly state” that enforces religious practice, and that the concept of “Shura,” a religious term, indicates pluralism.

According to Al-Ahram, the document also states that the nation would resort to Islam for supporting a democratic and constitutional nation based on free elections and equal representation.

Independent daily Al-Shorouk calls the document “revolutionary.” Tayyeb said that the parliament would be the only legislative authority. The rest of the document talked about respecting women, children, freedom of speech, the practices and values of Egyptian society, and all religions.

According to Al-Shorouk, the document’s long list of signatories contains the names of many Islamic, political, literary and intellectual figures, including Coptic thinkers and activists.

State-run daily Al-Akhbar quotes Tayyeb as saying that Islamic principles would remain the main source for legislation and that members of other religions should be guaranteed the right to resort to their own religious authorities for administering their personal affairs if they choose.

Al-Wafd’s party paper ran the headline, “Al-Azhar clings to the civil state.”

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) conducted a Facebook poll of presidential candidates. ElBaradei came in first with 37 percent, followed by newly announced Mohamed Selim al-Awa, with 19 percent. Ahmed Shafiq, Amr Moussa, Hesham el-Bastawisi and Omar Suleiman followed. Others, such as political/sports sideshow figure Mortada Mansour, received support of 0 percent, according to Al-Shorouk.

Political pundit Amr Hashem Rabei told Al-Shorouk that the SCAF was prematurely polling for the presidential election and should have focused the poll on whether the constitution should be drafted before or after parliamentary elections.

Most papers address the debate of when the constitution should be written, after Prime Minister Essam Sharaf made a statement regarding his preference for drafting the constitution first. Both Al-Wafd and the independent paper Al-Dostour ran prominent op-eds criticizing the call, as well as Sharaf’s statement. It is worth noting that both papers are owned by Wafd Party or its allies.

Al-Wafd also ran a story on a campaign called “The Constitution First” by the Free Front for Peaceful Change, which reportedly gathered a million signatures in support of the cause.

Al-Ahram says the call for a constitution first is causing a rift between revolutionary forces, especially after groups like “We Are All Khaled Saeed” and the April 6 Youth Movement decided the constitutional issue would be the main topic of the “Third Friday of Anger” planned for 8 July.

In an interview with Al-Akhbar, presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei said that “the constitutional declaration is not sacred… and I request setting the constitution first.”

Hussein Salem, aka Friend of Israel (Al-Dostour), aka the Spanish Man (Al-Ahram), aka The Fugitive (Al-Wafd), is back in the newspapers again. Al-Wafd says that he is not included in a list of businessmen whose Swiss accounts Egypt requested to have frozen.

Al-Dostour claims that his detainment in Spain and the question of his extradition to Egypt is more of a political matter than a judicial one. Al-Ahram says it is likely he would be extradited to Egypt soon.

Underground metro lovers can rejoice in the fact that the first stage of the third metro line between Attaba and Abbasseya is set to open by January 2012, according to Al-Shorouk, in order to coincide with the anniversary of the 25 January uprising. The wheels are in motion, quite literally, as the transportation minister took a tour on a small monorail to oversee the work now being done on the line.

Egypt appointed a new foreign minister Sunday to replace Nabil Elaraby, who was picked as the new Arab League chief last month, a cabinet official said.

"We have named our former ambassador in Berlin, Mohammed el-Orabi, as the new foreign minister," the official told Reuters. The government confirmed the appointment in a statement.

El-Orabi was Egypt's deputy foreign minister for economic affairs and previously served in embassies in Kuwait, London and Washington, according to Egypt's state news agency.

Elaraby was made foreign minister in a cabinet reshuffle in early March. He takes over at the Arab League from Amr Moussa, who led the 22-nation Cairo-based body for 10 years.

Since veteran leader Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in February, the army-backed interim government has upheld an alliance with the United States and Israel but sought to calm tensions with regional rival Iran.

The improvement in relations with Tehran has alarmed Gulf Arab states which relied on Mubarak's support in their disputes with Iran.

Elaraby said on June 13 that Iran must not meddle in the internal affairs of Gulf states, saying Egypt considered the internal security of fellow Arab countries a "red line."

YEMEN:

Top US official Jeffrey Feltman called Thursday for an "immediate" transfer of power in Yemen after he met the Arab nation's Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, in comments to reporters in Sanaa.

"We continue to believe that an immediate, peaceful, and orderly transition is in the best interest of the Yemeni people," said Feltman, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.

"We urge all sides to engage in dialogue that peacefully moves Yemen forward," he said.

Feltman's statements come amid growing local and international pressure on Hadi to assume power after embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh was flown to Riyadh for treatment for wounds suffered when a bomb exploded as he prayed at his palace mosque earlier this month.

The president has made no public appearance since the attack, sparking speculation concerning his situation and casting doubts over the possibility of his return to power.

But Hadi's grip on power is strongly questioned as relatives of Saleh continue to run main security systems. Key among them is Saleh's son, Ahmed, who leads the elite Republican Guard.

"The United States supports the initiative proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a credible path to confront the challenging political situation in Yemen," said Feltman.

"We encourage all parties to move swiftly to implement the terms of the agreement so the Yemeni people can soon realize the security, unity, and prosperity that they have so courageously sought and so richly deserve," he added.

Despite strong Western pressure, Saleh has repeatedly refused to sign the GCC-brokered transition plan under which he would hand power to his deputy Hadi within 30 days in exchange for a promise of immunity from prosecution.

Gunmen attacked the main prison in the southern Yemen port city of Mukalla in a coordinated strike on Wednesday that freed at least 40 prisoners, according to security and ruling party officials.

The attack underscored the country’s worsening security situation and came as the State Department envoy Jeffrey D. Feltman began two days of meetings in the capital, Sanaa, with Yemen’s vice president and leading members of the opposition.

They were to discuss the political crisis here, which deepened this month when President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to seek medical treatment in Saudi Arabia after an attack on his presidential compound.

Ahmed Sofan, a prominent ruling party official, said the jailbreak provided “another sign of what happens when a country is collapsing.”

He said that many of the escaped prisoners were Islamic militants but that it was unclear whether they were members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the local branch of the terrorist network. News agencies, citing anonymous Yemeni security sources, reported that many of the prisoners belonged to the group.

A military official in Mukalla, 310 miles east of the southern city of Aden, said about 20 gunmen were involved in the attack, which lasted about 30 minutes and appeared to have been coordinated with the prisoners inside.

The political crisis in Yemen entered a tense and uncertain phase after the strike on the presidential palace June 3.

Saleh was severely burned in the attack, and a number of leading ruling party officials were injured and also left Yemen for treatment in Saudi Arabia. The state of Saleh’s health is not known.

The vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, has been technically in charge in Mr. Saleh’s absence, but he has not stepped up as a leader, and rumors have circulated about Saleh’s return.

The United States has played an important role in the negotiations for a peaceful transfer of power in Yemen. But Saleh, an American ally who has ruled for 33 years, has repeatedly avoided signing any negotiated deal despite promises to do so.

On Wednesday, Feltman, the American assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, met with Hadi and condemned the attack on Mr. Saleh’s palace while calling for a dialogue to prevent the country from falling further into crisis, the official Saba news agency reported.

During the evening meeting with the opposition, Mr. Feltman reiterated the United States’ commitment to transferring political power to Mr. Hadi, but urged the opposition leaders to cooperate more with the vice president, according to a member of the opposition who was present at the meeting.

OMAN: Sultan Qaboos Bin Said of Oman gave an audience to Jeffrey Feltman, the US Assistant Secretary of State for the Near Eastern Affairs on Tuesday at the Bait Al Barakah.

The audience reviewed aspects of the existing cooperation between Oman and the US in various spheres, in light of the good relations binding the two friendly countries and peoples, in addition to, discussing the current developments of events at the regional and international arenas.

The audience was attended by Sayyid Badr Bin Hamad Al Busaidi, Secretary-General of the Foreign Ministry and Victor Hurtado, Charge D'affaires of the US Embassy in Oman.

Meanwhile, Yousuf Bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs, received in Muscat a delegation from the Libyan transitional national council.

The delegation handed Bin Alawi a message from the council chief Mustafa Abduljalil pertaining to the council’s vision over developments in brotherly Libya.

BAHRAIN: A Bahrain court sentenced eight Shiite opposition activists to life in prison Wednesday for "plotting to overthrow" the kingdom's Sunni rulers, nearly a week ahead of a national dialogue proposed by the king.

The judgment drew an expression of concern from Washington, which stations its Fifth Fleet in the small but strategic Gulf archipelago.

The National Safety Court of first instance also jailed 13 other activists for two to 15 years on similar charges, the official Bahrain News Agency said.

A member of Bahrain's largest Shiite opposition grouping, the Islamic National Accord Association (Al-Wefaq), slammed the sentence as contradicting King Hamad's calls for dialogue, set to begin on July 1.

"Is this the atmosphere for dialogue?" asked Khalil Marzooq in excerpts of a speech he gave at a press conference in Manama posted on his Facebook page.

"When the one calling for change and reform is sentenced to life in prison, how will others take part?" he asked.

"There are political forces, some of whom have received harsh sentences, which have not been invited for dialogue," he added. "How will there be a dialogue without those figures?"

The eight activists sentenced to life include Hassan Mashaima, head of the Shiite opposition Haq movement, and Abdulwahab Hussein, who leads the Shiite Wafa Islamic Movement, as well as Shiite human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is also a Danish citizen.

Activist and Haq member Abduljalil al-Singace, who was released in February after six months in jail, was also sentenced to life.

The other four are Mohammed Habib al-Muqdad, who holds a Swedish passport; his cousin Abduljalil al-Muqdad and Saeed Mirza, both of whom are Wafa members, and Said Abdulnabi Shihab, who was sentenced in absentia.

Ibrahim Sharif, the Sunni leader of the Waed secular group, who played a prominent role in month-long protests for democratic reform that were crushed in March, received a five-year sentence, BNA said.

Washington expressed concern about the use of military courts to try the activists.

"We are concerned about the severity of the sentences handed down... in Bahrain. We're also concerned about the use of military courts to try these civilians," State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

"Such steps are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain's citizens," he added.

Sharif and other leading opposition figures were arrested amid the Sunni authorities' crackdown on the protests led by the islands' Shiite majority.

Nine of the defendants had been in custody on similar charges in the past before being set free under a royal pardon in February aimed at calming the protests.

Mashaima, who was abroad, returned to Bahrain following the pardon. His son Ali Hassan Mashaima, who is in London, is being tried in absentia and was sentenced with five others to 15 years.

The sentences sparked protests in several Shiite-populated villages, activists told AFP.

Scores more activists are facing trial on charges linked to the protests in a semi-martial court set up under a "state of national safety" decreed by King Hamad a day before protesters were evicted from a Manama square in mid-March.

Authorities backed by troops that rolled into Bahrain from fellow Gulf nations quelled the protests while security forces set about arresting hundreds of activists, as well as doctors, medics and teachers accused of backing protesters.

Bahrain's interior ministry said 24 people, including four policemen, were killed in the unrest. The opposition said scores were arrested, amid widespread allegations of torture, while hundreds were dismissed from their jobs.

Four people have been sentenced to death and three others to life in prison over the killing of two policemen during the protests. Nine others were jailed for 20 years after being convicted of abducting a policeman.

IRAQ:

Iraqi leading political parties on Monday held their first meeting to discuss the extension of the U. S. troops presence in the country beyond the end of 2011 deadline.

The three-hour meeting, which took place at Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's residence in Baghdad, was attended by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, top Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political leaders.

"The meeting was successful. We discussed the presence of the U. S. troops in details whether to stay or to leave (the country) and whether we need trainers and the number of them," Talabani told news conference after the meeting.

Talabani said that the Iraqi factions agreed on holding another meeting "soon" to take a unified political decision.

Baghdad and Washington are in debate whether the U.S. troops need to extend the presence of its troops in Iraq beyond the 2011 deadline.

In mid-2010, U.S. troops in Iraq had been reduced to below 50, 000 soldiers. Washington said that the remaining U.S. troops in Iraq are conducting support and training missions.

U.S. military forces are to pull out completely from Iraq by the end of 2011, according to the security pact named Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which was signed late in 2008 between Baghdad and Washington.

On the other hand, Talabani said that Monday's meeting, which was not attended by Iyad Allawi, the head of the cross-sectarian bloc of al-Iraqia, also agreed on halting the political debate among the political blocs, namely between Maliki's State of Law bloc and Allawi's bloc.

"The leaders of the political blocs agreed unanimously on the need to stop media campaigns," as well as to respect agreements and understandings made previously by them, Talabani said.

Talabani's meeting came to defuse tensions flared recently between Maliki and Allawi over Maliki's failing to agree on the law of the yet-to-be-created National Council for Strategic Policies, which is a body supposed to be headed by Allawi and tasked to oversee major issues including security ones.

The body was agreed upon by the Iraqi rival political blocs late last year within the power-sharing deal brokered by the Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani and resulted in reaching a political breakthrough after months of political deadlock following the country's March 7 parliamentary elections in 2010.

Allawi was in fierce struggle to take the post of premier after his Iraqia bloc narrowly won most seats in the parliamentary polls.

LIBYA:

China's foreign minister sought to bolster ties with Libya's rebels on Wednesday, telling the opposition leader that his Transitional National Council represents a growing segment of the Libyan public.

Yang Jiechi's remarks to Mahmoud Jibril on Wednesday were China's strongest endorsement of the council yet, marking an attempt to hedge China's bets over the outcome to the Libyan conflict and dealing a further diplomatic setback to Muammar Gaddafi.

"Since the Transitional National Council was formed, it has become more representative by the day and is becoming an important political force," Yang said, according to a statement issued by the ministry.

"The Chinese side regards it as an 'important dialogue participant,'" he said.

Yang repeated China's stance that both sides in the conflict should stop fighting and negotiate a political settlement. China would not seek to gain from the conflict and regards it as an internal matter to be settled by the Libyan people, he said. "China hopes that both sides in the conflict will ... truly give peace a chance," Yang said.

Beijing has criticized the NATO bombing campaign in support of the rebels. Yet, recent weeks have seen Beijing engage with the rebels in an indication that China regards a victory for Gaddafi as far from certain.

According to the ministry, Jabril responded to Yang by saying the council appreciated China's "active role" in resolving the crisis. He pledged in future that the council would "take necessary measures to protect Chinese personnel and property in areas under its control" — a reference to China's extensive economic interests in Libya prior to the conflict.

After fighting began, China was forced to evacuate 35,000 of its citizens working in Libya, while China-backed deals such as a half-finished public housing project being built by state-owned contractor China State Construction Engineering Corp., were abruptly put on hold. Other Chinese engineering, telecommunications and energy companies also face massive losses.

Estimates of China's investments in Libya before fighting began run as high as $18 billion.

International officials and Libya's opposition have drawn up detailed plans for life following the removal of Muammar Gaddafi, British diplomats said Friday.

Preparations for maintaining law and order, resuming oil production and the potential deployment of U.N. forces as cease-fire monitors have all been drafted during talks over the last month, which have also discussed how officials currently tied to Gaddafi's regime could be integrated into a new, interim administration.

A senior British diplomat, who demanded anonymity to discuss the work, said Friday that a team of officials from the U.K., United States, Italy, Turkey and other nations has spent several weeks in eastern Libya discussing scenarios with opposition leaders.

"We are planning carefully and comprehensively for the days, weeks and months after Gaddafi has gone," the diplomat said. The plans, which are expected to be published formally next week, include a proposed timetable for resuming oil production in Libya's east.

Officials believe there is little serious damage there to hamper production and predict work could begin again three to four weeks after Gaddafi leaves office.

The team has also discussed developing Libya's civil society institutions.

Libya's Transitional National Council intends to run the country until parliamentary and presidential elections can take place.

The British diplomat acknowledged officials have been mindful of recent failures in post-conflict planning. The U.S. and Britain have been sharply criticized over preparations in Iraq for the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"We have learned the lessons of previous conflicts, this is precisely why the U.K. has been at the forefront of supporting the Libyan people's preparations," the diplomat said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had faith in the ability of the Libyan opposition.

"I believe we need to show real support for the Transitional National Council, who I believe are demonstrating they are not extremists, they are not Islamists, they are not tribal. They want a united Libya, but a more democratic Libya," he said, speaking at a European Union summit in Brussels.

Military officials and diplomats in Britain insisted that Gaddafi is being eased out of power, despite his refusal to quit so far.

British military spokesman Maj. Gen. Nick Pope told reporters that a meeting on Tuesday in London of the nations involved in the air campaign in Libya had underscored their resolve.

The talks had illustrated the "determination to carry the operation through to a successful conclusion," Pope said.

Attack helicopters and fighter jets have flown 12,000 sorties and struck about 2,400 targets since the campaign began on March 19, he said.

The British diplomat insisted the pressure would soon force Gaddafi to step down. "The anger against him is simmering. The question is not if he will go, but when," he said.