WASHINGTON Senior figures close to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are keen to agree a ceasefire and peace deal with rebels trying to oust him, according to a businessman who says he has talked to Gaddafi's entourage.
Middle Eastern financier Roger Tamraz told Reuters on Sunday that Gaddafi representatives have told him in recent days that they are ready to make a deal with the rebels and their Western backers.
"They know they will lose in the end," said Tamraz, who has had business links with Libya for decades. The rebels have made major advances this weekend, thanks to Western airstrikes that have diminished Gaddafi's armored advantage on the ground.
Tamraz said that the entourage members are willing to discuss changes to Libya's constitution and the creation of an "interim government" bringing in rebel forces who are advancing on towns previously controlled by Gaddafi loyalists.
Tamraz said that Gaddafi and his entourage recognize that as part of any peace deal, the veteran Libyan leader will have to relinquish his rule. They recognize that Gaddafi's leadership "has come to the end of the line," Tamraz said.
It was impossible to immediately corroborate Tamraz's assertions but U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated on U.S. television that there was evidence Gaddafi associates were trying to explore ways to end the conflict.
"We have a lot of evidence that people around him are reaching out," Clinton told NBC's 'Meet the Press.'
"We're also sending a message to people around him: Do you really want to be a pariah? Do you really want to end up in the International Criminal Court? Now is your time to get out of this and to help change the direction," said Clinton.
The first step would be for a ceasefire to be agreed and some sort of international monitoring put in place, said Tamraz.
One suggestion for Gaddafi's future favored by Tamraz's contacts would be for the Libyan leader to go into internal exile.
Tamraz indicated, however, that at least a significant proportion of the embattled leader's entourage might be willing to leave Libya as part of any peace deal.
If the West or the rebels insisted that the entire Gaddafi family or tribe leave Libya, this would be unacceptable, since the tribe is so large and dispersed. In that case fighting would continue, said Tamraz.
Tamraz said that peace feelers from the Gaddafi camp were being sent out most aggressively by the Libyan leader's eldest son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and by Muammar's brother-in-law and one-time internal security chief, Abdullah Senoussi.
Intermediaries involved in possible peace discussions say the Western powers carrying out air strikes against Gaddafi's forces will not consider a halt until after a major conference on Libya taking place in London on Tuesday, said Tamraz.
Tamraz said that while he was in direct contact with members of the Gaddafi entourage, he was not involved in any direct contacts with Libyan rebel forces or their leaders.
Tamraz, who spoke to Reuters by telephone from Western Europe, said he could not disclose who were his contacts in Libya.
(Editing by Sean Maguire)