WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Pentagon spokesman George Little said Wednesday "significant developments" initiated by Libyan rebels have brought Moammar Gadhafi's regime to its last legs.
Rebels "are headed toward, and may be in now, a town called Zawiyah, and that is relatively close to Tripoli," Little said. "You also have anti-Gadhafi forces making progress in the east. Those are significant developments."
Economic sanctions, combined with high-profile defections, are pushing Gadhafi toward the door, Little said.
"If you put all of those things together, the future does not look particularly bright for Gadhafi, but we'll have to see where things go," Little said, cautioning no one "can put a precise number on how many days" the dictator has left.
Gadhafi's representatives were in talks with a U.N. envoy as rebels advanced on Tripoli, diplomats said.
Former Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdel-Elah al-Khatib, appointed by the United Nations to try to negotiate an end to the months-long conflict, said he met Tuesday with representatives of both sides of the conflict in Tunisia, the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported.
Khatib said he met "separately" with the two sides. While the rebel Transitional National Council denied involvement, no such denial came from the Gadhafi regime.
Khatib said he also may meet with a representative of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a friend and ally of Gadhafi. During the early days of the uprising, there were persistent reports that Gadhafi considered exile in Venezuela.
TNC envoy to France Mansur Saif al-Nasser said rebels hoped to declare victory by the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in two weeks.
"Our forces totally control Zawiyah, which will open the way to Tripoli," he said. "This will allow the population there to revolt. Soon we will liberate all of southern Libya. We hope to celebrate the final victory at the same time as the end of Ramadan."
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, National Transitional Council chairman, sought to explain the intent and the legitimacy of the council, the de facto government in the rebel-held eastern Libya, during a news conference.
He said a transition period was needed to establish stability that would not exceed eight months. Then Libyans would elect a national parliament and a referendum on a new constitution would come with 20 months, Jalil said.
NATO leaders also expressed confidence the war to oust Gadhafi's regime was heading toward a conclusion and Gadhafi was on his way out, the Telegraph said.
The military alliance said it believes pro-Gadhafi troops no longer have the capacity to launch "coherent operations," the BBC reported.
In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, "I think the sense is that Gadhafi's days are numbered."
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim confirmed the defection of long-time loyalist and former Interior Minister Nasser al-Mabrouk Abdullah, who arrived in Egypt with his family Monday.
NATO officials also confirmed government forces fired a Scud missile at rebel positions behind the front line in the east. The missile missed its target and did no damage.
NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie called the use of Scud missiles "irresponsible" because of the threat of civilian casualties. However, he said using a Scud was like "throwing dishes against a wall. … It makes a lot of noise, but that's all."