ISTANBUL: Some 15 top diplomats including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meet Friday in Istanbul to discuss a political solution to the conflict in Libya while coordinating aid for the rebels.
The fourth meeting of the Libya contact group will also include British Foreign Secretary William Hague, his French counterpart Alain Juppe and Franco Frattini of Italy.
France, which has played a key role in rallying international support for the rebels fighting to topple Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi, on Tuesday said a political solution to the fourth-month-old conflict could be within reach.
Juppe said there had been contacts with Kadhafi's regime and that the veteran Libyan was ready to step down after 42 years in power, but the US cautioned many of the diplomatic signals coming from Tripoli have been contradictory.
The prospect of Kadhafi's peaceful departure will head the list of topics at the Instanbul talks, a Turkish diplomat said.
The rebels' de facto foreign minister, Mahmoud Jibril, will attend the meeting, where diplomats will discuss the future aid -- both military and financial -- that could be sent to the rebels in the coming weeks.
China and Russia both declined invitations to attend the meeting.
The two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have been highly critical of NATO's ongoing military raids on pro-Kadhafi targets.
Moscow has insisted that NATO has violated the terms of the Security Council resolution that authorised the bombings, saying the civilian protection mandate of the text has been misused by NATO to justify regime change.
The meeting, which was set to start at 0830 GMT, comes as the rebel forces on Thursday solidified their positions near Al-Assabaa, a strategic city 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the capital Tripoli.
The rebels also announced that they were preparing to attack Brega, a petroleum hub currently controlled by the regime in the east of the country. (AFP)