Jacques Brinon, Associated Press
PARIS — France's foreign minister said Tuesday Paris has had contact with emissaries from Moammar Gadhafi who say the embattled Libyan strongman is "prepared to leave" power.
It was not immediately clear whether such an offer is credible or amounts to a potential breakthrough in the Libyan crisis. But Gadhafi has refused to leave or give up power.
Alain Juppe said that while the contacts do not constitute proper negotiations, "everyone (involved in Libya's civil war) has contacts with everyone else. The Libyan regime sends its messengers all over, to Turkey, to New York, to Paris.
"We receive emissaries who are saying, 'Gadhafi is prepared to leave. Let's discuss it,'" Juppe said, without identifying the envoys.
French officials have insisted that Gadhafi's giving up power is key to ending the hostilities, which began in mid-March, and Juppe said that more and more countries agree on that point.
"There is a consensus on how to end the crisis, which is that Gadhafi has to leave power," Juppe said. "That (consensus) was absolutely not a given two or three months ago.
"The question is no longer whether Gadhafi is going to leave power, but when and how," he said.
France was instrumental in launching the NATO-led operation of airstrikes against Gadhafi's forces, in a U.N.-mandated mission to protect civilians resisting his four-decade regime.
NATO flew more than 100 sorties Monday and hit several key targets in western Libya, including a military storage facility, three military facilities and seven military vehicles, according to an operational report issued Tuesday.
Juppe's upbeat talk came hours before French lawmakers voted overwhelmingly, 482-27, to continue the French role in the NATO-led air campaign. French law requires parliamentary approval for all military campaigns lasting more than four months.
In Tripoli, Libyan officials warned that the rebel-controlled eastern half of the country could be cut off from water supplies without a truce to allow for maintenance work on a power plant pumping water up from the desert.
About 70 percent of the country relies on water brought up from underground aquifers deep in the southern desert, and the plant powering it in the east is falling apart, said the Libyan agricultural minister.
"Out of six turbines, we are using one turbine in the plant because of lack of maintenance," said Abdel-Maguid al-Gaud, who also heads the system known as the Great Man-made Water Project, which supplies water to both halves of the country. "It's going to close itself."
Al-Gaud called for a cease-fire with the rebels and NATO forces and urged the U.N. to lift a ban on importing spare parts so the power plant could be repaired and restored to full power. U.N. Security Council resolutions ban imports of many items into Libya.
Libya has made several demands for a cease-fire but the rebels and NATO have insisted on Gadhafi's departure first.
Meanwhile, NATO appeared to suggest on Tuesday that it would be willing to stop bombing Libya during Ramadan — if Gadhafi's forces also honored a cease-fire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins around Aug. 1.
"We need to wait and see whether Gadhafi's forces continue to shell and inflict harm," said a NATO spokesman, Wing Cmdr. Mike Bracken.
"If they do, and we believe there is risk to the lives of Libyan people, then I think it would be highly appropriate to continue to use the mandate that NATO has to protect those lives," Bracken said during a teleconference from NATO's operational command in Naples, Italy.
NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said that "as long as attacks and threats continue, NATO's mission remains to protect civilians in Libya."
Jenny Barchfield in Paris, Paul Schemm in Tripoli, Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.
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