International leaders meeting in London on Tuesday agreed to establish a group to increase pressure against the Gadhafi regime in Libya.

World leaders have agreed on the desirability of Moammar Gadhafi stepping down, but U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said a political settlement that would allow him to leave the country has not been ruled out.

Both Britain and Italy suggested on the sidelines of the conference that Gadhafi might be allowed to go into exile to bring a quick end to the six-week conflict. Clinton said that it appears Gadhafi has made no decisions yet about his future but that several scenarios are "in play." 

Clinton said coalition airstrikes on Libya would continue until Gadhafi complied with UN demands to cease violence against civilians, but military force alone would not be sufficient.

"All of us must continue to increase the pressure on and deepen the isolation of the Gadhafi regime through other means as well," she said.

Clinton met with Mahmoud Jibril, a representative of the Libyan opposition fighting Gadhafi, and discussed political next steps, as they did two weeks ago during an initial meeting in Paris, aides said.

Clinton acknowledged that the coalition doesn't know as much as it would like about the rebel opposition. A top U.S. military commander, Admiral James G. Stavridis, had suggested Tuesday that there could be al-Qaeda elements among the rebels.

"We have not made any decision about arming the rebels or providing any arms transfers, so there has not been any need to discuss that at this point," Clinton said.

Non-lethal assistance such as funding for the rebels was discussed, Clinton said, and could be provided by the international group.

During a CBS television interview Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged that officials have seen "flickers" of possible al-Qaeda and Hezbollah involvement among the rebel forces. But he said most of the opposition leaders that have dealt with U.S. officials "are professionals, lawyers, doctors — people who appear to be credible."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced the creation of the loose coalition — known as the Libya Contact Group — that will centralize international monitoring of the conflict in Libya.

Hague added that Libya was under a UN-mandated arms embargo and the restrictions "in our view apply to the whole of Libya," suggesting a reluctance for full backing of the rebel opposition.

Clinton, however, suggested that UN Resolution 1973 might allow for the prospect of providing weapons to the rebels.

"It is our interpretation that 1973 amended or overrode the absolute prohibition on arms to anyone in Libya, so that there could be a legitimate transfer of arms if a country should choose to do that," she told reporters Tuesday.

And Obama also appeared to recognize the possibility during an NBC Nightly News interview Tuesday.

"One of the questions that we want to answer is: Do we start getting to a stage where Gadhafi's forces are sufficiently degraded, where it may not be necessary to arm opposition groups," Obama said.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, however, told Sky News in the U.K. that "the Security Council resolution is very clear in my opinion. It requests the enforcement of an arms embargo.…we are there to protect people, not to arm people."

Qatar to host next meeting

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jabr al-Thani suggested further steps might be needed if the aerial campaign failed to protect Libyan civilians.

"We have to evaluate the airstrike after a while to see if it's effective," he said. "We are not inviting any military ground [troops] … but we have to evaluate the situation because we cannot let the people suffer for so long, you know. We have to find a way to stop this bloodshed."

The first meeting of the international group will be in Qatar and participating countries will take on a rotating chairmanship, Hague said.

Qatar has also offered to help sell Libyan oil on the international market. Oil revenues make up the vast majority of revenue for the country, and they have dropped dramatically since refineries went offline after the Libyan conflict began.

300-clinton-cameron

Clinton and British Prime Minister David Cameron chat on Tuesday. The North African country 'belongs not to a dictator, but to its people,' Clinton said. (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)

"This conference has shown we are united in our aims," Hague said at a press conference. "We are united in seeking a Libya that does not pose a threat to its people or to the region."

Additional sanctions are being considered, he said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the Arab League and as many as 40 global foreign ministers attended the talks in London.

"We are all here in one united purpose, that is to help the Libyan people in their hour of need," British Prime Minister David Cameron said. "But ultimately a solution must be a political one and it must be for the Libya people themselves to determine their destiny."

Clinton said countries must work together so that the North African country "belongs not to a dictator, but to its people," promising to ratchet up the pressure on the Libyan government in hopes of convincing Gadhafi's remaining loyalists to abandon the regime.

'We are united in our aims.' — William Hague, British foreign secretary

The London gathering comes a day after President Barack Obama vigorously defended the U.S.-led campaign against Gadhafi's troops in Libya, declaring that action was necessary to prevent a slaughter of civilians.

A massacre would have stained the world's conscience and "been a betrayal of who we are" as Americans, Obama said.

Yet the president ruled out targeting Gadhafi, warning that trying to oust him militarily would be a mistake as costly as the war in Iraq. Obama said he would keep his pledge to get the U.S. out of the military lead fast.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Tuesday "there are non-military means at our disposal" to force Gadhafi out, including economic and diplomatic pressure.

With files from The Associated Press