Muammar Qaddafi's inner circle was debating whether the man in charge of Libya since 1969 should remain in power or relinquish his role, as his government invited rebels and tribal leaders to negotiate a political solution, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
The rebel-led governing council, based in Benghazi, in eastern Libya, confirmed Tuesday that it received the invitation but rejected it.
Reform-minded officials in Qaddafi's government were lobbying for a plan that calls on Qaddafi to cede power to a council of technocrats who could shepherd a transition toward democratic reforms and a government based on modern institutions, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Under this plan, Qaddafi would be given an honorary title reflecting his service to the country but be removed from day-to-day decision-making, according to this person, who added that members of Qaddafi's family were briefed on the plan.
But the threat of prosecution at an international criminal court could deter Qaddafi from agreeing to a negotiated solution, a US official said.
It was unclear which camp within Qaddafi's inner circle -- hard-liners or reformists -- has more sway. Two of the leader's sons are commanders of brigades leading military assaults against opposition-held positions.
US officials said that America's Western allies were trying to step up pressure on aides close to Qaddafi to force him from power. European diplomats also tried to reach out to members of his inner circle to urge them to pressure the colonel to leave office, US officials said.
President Barack Obama said Monday that the US was discussing military options with NATO, and Britain and France began drafting a UN resolution supporting a no-fly zone over Libya -- a move that would require military intervention.
One sign that the reformist camp could be gaining ground was the appearance on state television Sunday night of former prime minister Jadallah al Talhi, to invite the Benghazi-based rebels to political negotiations.
Talhi's appearance on the national broadcaster, which answers to Qaddafi, implied that his invitation had the leader's approval, according to Libyan officials. It also marked a sharp change in tone from previous official statements, in which rebels were described as al Qaeda supporters, drug users and criminals.