Libyan and U.S. officials say the two governments held face-to-face talks in Tunisia over the weekend, but Washington says the sole point of the meeting was to repeat its demand that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi "must go."
The disclosure came nearly four months into the bombardment of Libya by the NATO allies, including the United States. Libyan government spokesman Musa Ibrahim called the talks "a first step," adding "We welcome further steps."
"We are ready to discuss ideas to move forward, make sure that people are not harmed any more, that this conflict comes to an end and that the damaged relationship between Libya and the (United) States and other NATO countries can be repaired," Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim would not name the officials who participated in the talks, but three high-level officials told CNN that one of the American envoys who participated in the negotiations was the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz.
Cretz was recalled from Libya in December amid the disclosure of embarrassing U.S. diplomatic cables published by the anti-secrecy website Wikieaks. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli was shuttered and American personnel evacuated by sea and air in late February, after the current revolt against Gadhafi erupted.
The alliance has a U.N. mandate to protect civilians from troops loyal to Gadhafi as the longtime Libyan strongman fights a rebellion that has claimed control of the eastern half of the country.
In Washington, a U.S. official familiar with the meeting said the Tunisia meeting was held "for us to convey directly that Gadhafi must go." And a State Department spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said the meeting was held "to deliver a clear and firm message that the only way to move forward is for Gadhafi to step down."
"This was not a negotiation. It was the delivery of a message," the spokesman said. "The message was simple and unambiguous and the same message we deliver in public - Gadhafi must leave power so that a new political process can begin that reflects the will and aspirations of the Libyan people."
There is no plan for a further meeting, "because the message has been delivered," the spokesman added.
Libyan officials have said previously that the Tripoli government had been conducting talks with the Benghazi-based rebels, but officials with the rebels' Transitional National Council denied the claim. And Ibrahim said in June that Libya would not consider a peace initiative that would require Gadhafi to step down.
CNN's Ivan Watson in Tripoli and John King in Washington contributed to this report.