A former Republican congressman who has experience dealing with Muammar al-Qaddafi has arrived in Libya on a surprise visit aimed at convincing the embattled strongman to step down.
Former Rep. Curt Weldon, who led delegations to Libya in 2004 after Qaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program, announced Wednesday that he was invited back by Qaddafi's chief of staff. He claimed both the Obama administration and bipartisan members of Congress are aware of his visit. Administration sources later told Fox News the White House knew about the trip in advance.
"Our purpose is to meet with Colonel Qaddafi today and persuade him to step aside," Weldon wrote in a New York Times column explaining his visit.
Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill say U.S. air power should be used to its fullest extent to drive Qaddafi from power -- something the Obama administration has resisted. But at the helm of what he described as a "small private delegation," Weldon suggested "face-to-face" diplomacy would be necessary to prevent a stalemate. NATO-led forces have struck Qaddafi targets and enforced a no-fly zone over Libya since last month, but rebels have recently complained that NATO's not doing enough.
"I've met him enough times to know that it will be very hard to simply bomb him into submission," Weldon cautioned.
Weldon outlined several ambitious goals. Not only does he want to persuade Qaddafi to relinquish power, he also called for an "immediate United Nations-monitored cease-fire" under which Qaddafi's military withdraws from "contested cities" and the rebels stop trying to advance.
From there, he called for trying to "identify and engage with those leaders who, if not perfect, are pragmatic and reform-minded" to help schedule new elections and "a new governing framework."
Though the rebels are likely to resist such a move, Weldon suggested one of Qaddafi's sons, Saif, play a role in forming the new government.
Weldon represented Pennsylvania in Congress for two decades. He was a top member of the House Armed Services Committee and played a significant international role. As part of delegations in 2004, he met with Qaddafi and other Libyan officials, and addressed a meeting of Libyan lawmakers. Before that, he traveled to North Korea in 2003.
Weldon also was the subject of a federal corruption investigation, though no charges have been brought.
After leaving office, he reportedly worked on an arms deal with the Libyan government.