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Questions remain over NATO role in Libya
US, Britain, France agree to key role for NATO in military campaign, but divisions remain among other alliance members.
Last Modified: 23 Mar 2011 09:18

Western nations carrying out a military operation in Libya have agreed to use NATO to drive the operation but divisions remain among other members of the alliance.

Barack Obama, the US president, agreed with David Cameron, the UK prime minister, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, that NATO would play a key role in the operation to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, the White House said on Tuesday.

But the allies stopped short of endorsing NATO political leadership of the mission, following resistance from alliance member Turkey.

The announcement came after Turkey warned that it could not agree to the military alliance taking over the enforcement of the no-fly zone if their mission went "outside the framework" of the UN decision.

France later proposed that a new political steering committee outside of NATO be responsible for overseeing military operations over Libya to enforce the UN-backed no-fly zone.

Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, said the new body would bring together foreign ministers from participating states, including Britain, France and the US, as well as the Arab League.

It is expected to meet in the coming days, either in Brussels, London or Paris.

Juppe said not all members of the military coalition are members of NATO so "this is therefore not a NATO operation".

However, he said the coalition would use NATO's "planning and intervention capabilities".

Laurence Lee, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Brussels, said: "You can either regard [the proposal] as another attempt by the French to outflank everybody else and stay ahead of the game, or, if you're more kind about it, an attempt by the French to display some sort of creativity and sensitivity in what is more or less unchartered territory.

"The reason why [the proposal] seems perhaps to have some traction is because NATO seems to find it so impossibly difficult at the moment to come to some sort of agreement between themselves as to the way forward."

A NATO official told the Reuters news agency that the 28-member alliance had agreed on a detailed operational plan regarding the no-fly zone, but that political agreement still remained elusive.

'Broad' global effort

On Monday, Barack Obama, the US president, had said that Washington would transfer its leading role on Libya "within days" to ensure the burden of enforcing the no-fly zone was shared.

The White House said on Tuesday that Obama had spoken to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, and that they had agreed to seek a "broad" global effort on Libya.

Obama, on a visit to South America, spoke by telephone Monday evening to Erdogan who has publicly denounced the military campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as counter-productive.

Obama and Erdogan "reaffirmed their support for the full implementation" of recent UN Security Council resolutions "in order to protect the Libyan people," a White House statement said.

In a speech to his ruling AK party on Tuesday, Erdogan said that Turkey "will never point a gun at the Libyan people" and would explain its position to NATO allies.

Speaking on Tuesday in Tunis, the Tunisian capital, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said that the international campaign to enforce the no-fly zone would continue until Gaddafi stopped military action against his own people.

Ban said that "until he [Gaddafi] stops, I think that this military operation to enforce a no-fly zone will have to continue".

The UN chief said that "the first and foremost thing should come from Colonel Gaddafi, he must stop killing his own people".

Global criticism

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said "significant" military action in Libya should recede in a matter of days, during talks in Moscow with Anatoly Serdyukov, his Russian counterpart, on Tuesday.

Gates said that international forces were trying to minimise civilian causalities in Libya, adding that "significant military fighting that has been going on should recede in the next few days."

The Pentagon chief later confirmed that he was referring to US and allied bombing raids, saying that there would be less need for air strikes once Libya's air defences were eliminated.

"I think as we are successful at suppressing the air defences the level of kinetic activity should decline," he told journalists travelling with him.

International criticism of the coalition enforcing the no-fly zone has continued to grow, with India joining China in publicly calling for an end to the airstrikes.

Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for China's foreign ministry, said on Tuesday that the government opposed "the wanton use of armed force leading to more civilian casualties and more humanitarian disasters". China had already called for a ceasefire.

S M Krishna, the Indian foreign minister, called for a "cessation of armed conflict". His office had previously issued a statement on Monday expressing "regret" for the military intervention.

Pranab Mukherjee, the country's foreign minister, said in a speech to parliament that "no external powers" should interfere in Libya.

"Nobody, not a couple of countries, can take that decision to change a particular regime," he said.

Russian concern

China, India and Russia were among five countries that abstained from the UN Security Council vote that approved Resolution 1973 authorising the no-fly zone and military intervention.

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, expressed concern to Gates about the "indiscriminate" use of force by foreign powers in Libya, during talks in Moscow on Tuesday.

On Monday, Medvedev had appeared to rebuke Vladimir Putin, the country's prime minister, for comparing Western calls for action on Libya with the crusades.

Putin told workers at a missile factory that the UN Security Council resolution authorising the use of force
against Gaddafi "resembles medieval calls for crusades".

Shortly afterwards, Medvedev said the use of such terms was unacceptable and could stir up more violence.

Medvedev did not mention Putin by name, but the comments amounted to his sharpest ever public criticism of his mentor and raised concerns of discord between the two leaders ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

On Tuesday, Putin dismissed the allegations that he and Medvedev had disagreed about Libya, saying that they were "close".

"As for the agreement or disagreement of the Russian leadership's views on the events taking place in Libya, in our country, the Russian president heads foreign policy, and there can be no divergence" of views, news agencies quoted Putin as saying while on a visit to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.

On Monday, the UN Security Council rejected a Libyan request for an emergency meeting to halt what it called "military aggression" by coalition forces.

The council decided instead to hold a meeting already planned for Thursday to give a briefing on the coalition air campaign to Ban.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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