ABU DHABI Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet allies on Thursday to discuss the "end-game" for Libya, focusing on the looming question of what would happen if Muammar Gaddafi was ousted.
Clinton arrived in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday and will lead the U.S. team to Thursday's meeting of the so-called contact group on Libya, U.S. officials said. She will also discuss the protests that have gripped Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, they said.
With military pressure building on Gaddafi and his government looking increasingly isolated diplomatically, the Western-led coalition fighting for his ouster is starting to focus more directly on what political arrangements will be made for the post-Gaddafi era.
"The international community is beginning to talk about what could constitute end-game to this," one senior U.S. official told reporters aboard Clinton's plane.
"That would obviously include some kind of ceasefire arrangement and some kind of political process ... and of course the question of Gaddafi and perhaps his family is also a key part of that," the official said.
Both Libya's rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) and its Western allies have rejected Libyan government ceasefire offers that do not include Gaddafi's departure, saying he and his family must relinquish power before any talks can begin.
The U.S. official said there have been general discussions about what might happen to Gaddafi but nothing specific on "where he should go, or whether he should remain in Libya for that matter."
MONEY HAS YET TO FLOW
Thursday's meeting in Abu Dhabi comes as U.S. and other Western officials see they see incremental improvement in the ability of the TNC to plan for the future.
But U.S. officials say they still have made no decision on formal diplomatic recognition, and concede the Benghazi-based TNC is not ready to take over should Gaddafi fall tomorrow.
"When Gaddafi goes basically a whole regime goes, it's not just one man. So they've got a lot to deal with," the official said.
Western powers unleashed air strikes against Gaddafi's forces on March 19, launching a sustained NATO-led bombing campaign in support of Libyan rebels seeking to end Gaddafi's decades-long grip on the oil-producing North African country.
U.S. officials cite reasons for optimism, including intensified air strikes on Gaddafi strongholds in and around the capital Tripoli, the deployment of attack helicopters to spearhead more focused assaults, and more defections of key military and civilian personnel from Gaddafi's ranks.
The contact group, which includes major Western powers along with Arab states including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, ended its last meeting in Rome pledging to free up billions of dollars in frozen Libyan funds to help finance the rebels.
But despite the rebels' pleas that they are rapidly running out of money, no major cash transfers have taken place, adding to uncertainty over the future.
"We understand the TNC's frustration but again the international community isn't going to let the TNC go under," a second U.S. official said, adding that the focus now was on setting up a mechanism to ensure "assistance can flow in a transparent and accountable manner."