South African President Jacob Zuma will hold talks in Russia on Sunday with the International Contact Group on Libya, his foreign ministry said, after an African Union summit sought to advance a regional peace plan.
However Russia, which has also sought to play a mediating role in the nearly five-month conflict, has yet to confirm the visit.
Zuma belongs to the African Union’s team tasked with engaging “the opposing parties in Libya in order to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the current conflict”, the ministry said in a statement.
“President Jacob G. Zuma will undertake a working visit to the Russian Federation to participate in the meeting of the International Contact Group on Libya to be held on Sunday, July 3, 2011,” it said, adding that the visit was at Moscow’s invitation.
South African foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said Sunday the talks in Russia would include all members of the contact group, but could provide no details on the talks.
The Kremlin said in a statement late Saturday that Zuma and President Dmitry Medvedev held a telephone conversation in which they agreed on a “personal meeting in the closest time” but gave no details on when it would take place.
“The heads of state agreed on a personal meeting in the closest time to agree and coordinate the ensuing steps for a solution to the internal Libyan conflict,” it said.
Like South Africa, Russia has sought to be a key mediator, with Medvedev dispatching his envoy Mikhail Margelov both to rebel-held Benghazi and Kadhafi-controlled Tripoli for talks.
Medvedev has said it is time for Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi to step aside but Russia has also expressed mounting anger with the intensity and duration of the NATO air strikes against regime targets.
The announcement by Pretoria came shortly after Zuma returned home from the African Union summit in Equatorial Guinea, where the continental grouping adopted a plan for negotiations between the warring Libyan parties.
“We are very happy that we have reached this point, that we can now say very soon we will be launching the talks in Addis Ababa and we believe we will get the necessary support from everyone,” Zuma said late Friday after the summit.
But the accord reached at the summit did little to bring forward earlier AU proposals, which have been rejected by the rebellion who insist that Kadhafi must go.
New elements in the roadmap include provisions for a multinational peacekeeping force organised by the United Nations.
The AU also says that Kadhafi has agreed to stay out of the negotiations, but the 53-nation bloc was unable to take a position on his future, which is a key sticking point between the two sides.
The agreement contained no direct criticism of Kadhafi and even called for an amnesty for crimes during the conflict and the unfreezing of Libyan assets abroad.
The African Union also decided that its members would not execute an International Criminal Court arrest warrant against the leader.
Kadhafi was one of the main contributors to African Union running costs but also, thanks to his petrodollars, unilaterally funded several projects across the continent for years.
The AU plan calls for “an immediate suspension of hostilities, a humanitarian pause, a comprehensive ceasefire, a national reconciliation, arrangements relating to the transition, as well as the agenda for democratic transformation”.
Sieges on all cities must be lifted, attacks ended and people taken prison during the conflict released, it says.
The United Nations must lift the no-fly zone which has seen NATO-led air strikes on Kadhafi’s forces and, with the African Union and League of Arab States, send in a “sizeable peacekeeping force”, it said.
The transition should include a 30-day national dialogue, culminating in elections, and also allow for an amnesty, it added.
The international community should verify compliance of the ceasefire, lift sanctions and unfreeze Libyan assets abroad, it said.