Opposition forces are very close to take over the reins of power in Libya, but the conflict could have been resolved much earlier by diplomatic means, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday.
"Political power in Libya will soon be in the hands of rebel forces, although the resolution of the conflict could have been achieved sooner if it were not for the position of Muammar Gaddafi, who insisted that all negotiations should be conducted only with him," Lavrov said after talks with Foreign Minister of El Salvador Hugo Martinez.
Lavrov said NATO interference in Libya far beyond the UN mandate also hampered and delayed the resolution of the internal conflict in the country.
"The quicker resolution [of the conflict] could have, most certainly, saved a lot of lives," the Russian minister said.
Rebels by now have taken control of much of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Colonel Gaddafi's whereabouts are unknown, although he is not thought to have fled the country. Three of his sons, including his heir apparent Seif al-Islam, have been arrested.
Lavrov called on Libya's National Transitional Council and opposition forces to ensure the protection of all foreign nationals, including the Russian citizens, during the transition period.
"The National Transitional Council and other groups fighting on the side of opposition forces will carry on the responsibility for the future developments in the country," he said. "One of their priorities should be the safety of foreign citizens, including the Russian citizens, who remain in Libya."
Lavrov stressed that political dialogue in Libya should start immediately after the fighting is over to ensure the building of a democratic foundation of the future Libyan state "in the interests of all its citizens."