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NEW DELHI, India - US officials have met with representatives of Muammar Qadhafi to deliver a message that the embattled Libyan leader must go, a State Department official said on Tuesday.
The meeting was held "to deliver a clear and firm message that the only way to move forward is for Qadhafi to step down," the official said.
"This was not a negotiation. It was the delivery of a message," the official said in a statement issued in New Delhi, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on an official visit.
The meeting took place on Saturday and involved Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman and two other American officials, said a senior US official, who declined to say where the meeting occurred or who represented the Qadhafi government.
The meeting followed Washington's decision on Friday to formally recognize the Benghazi-based rebel National Transitional Council as the legitimate interim government of Libya. That step may help unlock billions of dollars in frozen funds that the rebel forces have been desperately seeking.
The US official said that the meeting was initiated after repeated contacts from Qadhafi emissaries indicated that Tripoli had questions about Washington's position.
"Senior officials in the Qadhafi regime had over a period of weeks made repeated calls to senor officials in the US and in those conversations they evinced an incorrect sense that somehow the United States was in a different place from other members of the international community and that the US could see a future for Qadhafi in Libya," the official said.
Washington decided to meet face-to-face with Qadhafi's emissaries after consulting with the Libyan rebels and other countries in the international alliance against Qadhafi.
"We decided...to deliver a message to them privately that was identical to what we'd been saying publicly which was that Qadhafi must go for there to be a political process that leads to a democratic Libya," the US official said.
"We have a sense from others that they have spoken with that they (the Libyans) understood the message. They got it...we have no plans for further meetings," the official said.