After weeks of denying there were ongoing talks with Moammar Gadhafi, the rebel government finally admitted there have been back-channel communications aimed specifically at getting the brutal dictator to step down.
Under the terms set forth by the rebels, Gadhafi and his family would never be able to be involved in government, but there is wiggle room that could allow him to remain in Libya.
Those terms are giving NATO allies heartburn, since they want Gadhafi either dead or to face war crimes charges, a European diplomatic source said a short while ago.
The talks have been held in France and South Africa with the knowledge of President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Jacob Zuma. A White House spokesman declined this afternoon to say whether President Obama was aware of the talks.
For nearly a month Gadhafi government officials have been telling reporters that there are behind-the-scenes talks, but the rebel Transitional National Council has denied it. Now the TNC is coming clean.
"We are engaging in discussion with some people who have contact with people from the regime," Mahmoud Shammam, a member of the executive committee of the rebels' National Transitional Council, told The Los Angeles Times at a conference in Beirut.
The talks, endorsed by Zuma, but not by Sarkozy, focus only on Gadhafi's exit.
"We are contacting them on the mechanism of the departure of Gaddafi. We don't negotiate the future of Libya," Shammam said.
The secret talks held by intermediaries vary in content and "depended on (Gadhafi's) mood," he added, according to The Telegraph of London.
So far the talks have gone nowhere, so NATO continues to bomb targets associated with Gadhafi every day, while the rebel army slowly gains ground of its own.
Gadhafi, meanwhile, broke days of silence overnight, warning in an audio broadcast on Libyan TV that the "second crusader war" war would "extend to Africa, Europe and America."
"Go on and attack us for two years, three years or even 10 years. But in the end, the aggressor is the one who will lose. One day we will be able to retaliate in the same way, and your houses will be legitimate targets for us," Gadhafi added.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen responded on the NATO website that it did not pick this fight, Gadhafi did.
"Remember, the Gadhafi regime began this conflict by attacking its own people with sustained and systematic violence, not NATO," Rasmussen said.