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Gadhafi's aides in touch with U.S. but unclear on intentions

From Elise Labott, CNN Senior State Department Producer
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Gadhafi's inner circle contacts U.S.
  • U.S. officials: Gadhafi's inner circle reaching out to other Arab states and U.S.
  • Officials say none of the contacts has indicated Gadhafi was ready to leave
  • "They are indeed reaching out, but it's not clear to what end," one official says
  • Gadhafi's brother-in-law has called the State Department almost daily, officials say

Washington (CNN) -- Members of Moammar Gadhafi's inner circle are contacting other Arab states and the United States, but have been unclear about their intentions, senior U.S. officials said.

In an interview on Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the prospect that Gadhafi and his inner circle were exploring their options, including seeking a way to leave Libya to escape a sustained bombing campaign by U.S.-led forces.

''We've heard about other people close to him reaching out to people that they know around the world," Clinton told ABC News. She described the communications as the Libyans exploring options and asking "What do we do?" "How do we get out of this?" "What happens next?''

In the interview, Clinton cautioned that some of what U.S. intelligence was picking up was probably "game playing" and "theater" and that the Libyan leader was unpredictable.

Abdullah Sanussi, Gadhafi's close confidant and brother-in-law, has called the State Department almost daily, and Foreign Minister Musa Kusa has also reached out several times, senior U.S. officials told CNN.

Additionally, Arab allies have told U.S. officials they have been contacted by members of Gadhafi's inner circle.

However, the officials said that none of Gadhafi's inner circle has indicated Gadhafi was ready to leave, nor have any of them suggested they are ready to abandon Gadhafi.

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"They are indeed reaching out, but it's not clear to what end," one senior official said. "It's not clear what's the purpose of all these calls."

There are "no serious indications" that Gadhafi might leave the country, a U.S. intelligence official told CNN. The official said Gadhafi is not going to give up power or walk away from Libya -- "he's all in."

On Wednesday, Clinton was more vague about Gadhafi's intentions, but she suggested the international campaign was putting pressure on the regime. She told reporters during an event at the State Department that, "Gadhafi has a decision to make, and the people around him each have decisions to make."

"It will be up to Gadhafi and his insiders to determine what their next steps are, but we would certainly encourage that they make the right decision and not only institute a real, comprehensive cease-fire but withdraw from the cities and end the military actions and prepare for a transition that does not include Col. Gadhafi," she said.

In Cairo, Egypt, Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested there were "a number of possible outcomes" of how the Libyan story might end, but that it would be up to Libyans themselves, specifically mentioning those closest to the Libyan ruler.

"Whether there are major defections, further major defections within his own ruling circle, whether there are divisions within his family, there are a variety of possibilities, it seems to me," he said.

Gates suggested the political calculus inside Libya might change thanks to American and coalition airstrikes that have grounded his planes and destroyed some of his tanks and other heavy military equipment.

"A lot of people who were in opposition and who played a role in the early days have hunkered down and it may be the changed circumstances where he (Gadhafi) can't use his aircraft and where he is more challenged using his armor -- they may return to the fight." Gates said at a question-and-answer session in Cairo. "We just don't know that now."

CNN's Pam Benson and Charley Keyes contributed to this report.

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