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Diplomacy in high gear as NATO faces dissent on Libya

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-04-14

NATO foreign ministers meet in Berlin for talks on Thursday amid a growing divide within the alliance on the future of the Libya mission. Libya has also dominated a concurrent BRICS summit in China and an Arab League meeting in Cairo.

A day after international powers in Qatar called for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to step down, NATO foreign ministers are meeting in Berlin for a two-day summit Thursday amid growing divisions within the military alliance over an air campaign that has so far failed to shift the balance of power on the ground.

The diplomatic effort to arrive at a coherent strategy on Libya went into high gear this week, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and officials from the Arab League, the African Union and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference holding a separate meeting Thursday at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo.

At a one-day summit in the southern Chinese resort of Sanya, the world’s five leading emerging powers expressed misgivings about the air strikes. A joint statement issued on Thursday by the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) urged a peaceful settlement to the Libyan conflict and praised the African Union’s mediation efforts earlier this week.

France and Britain lead the push

Two weeks after NATO took over leadership of the Libya military mission from Britain, France and the United States, the 28-member alliance is confronting divisions within its ranks, with France and Britain leading the push to increase the military pressure on Gaddafi.

French FM says NATO must 'fully play its role'

French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with British Prime Minister David Cameron in Paris late Wednesday night for talks focused on how to help the Libyan opposition stop Gaddafi's assaults on civilians, especially in the besieged western Libyan city of Misrata.

“Sarkozy and Cameron have been at the forefront of the military intervention in Libya,” said FRANCE 24’s international affairs editor Melissa Bell. “They’ve been leading the efforts to see this go as far as regime change, and yesterday they called for the military effort to be stepped up – making it clear that they’re unhappy with the way NATO has handled the mission so far.”

Despite the differences, NATO foreign ministers rallied together on Thursday to support the international call for Gaddafi’s departure made at a meeting of the Libyan “contact group” in the Qatari capital of Doha on Wednesday.

"We welcome the outcome of the first meeting of the contact group which took place yesterday in Doha and strongly endorse its call for Gaddafi to leave power," said a joint NATO declaration issued Thursday.

Rasmussen calls for more sophisticated equipment, aircraft

Reporting from the rebel-held eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, FRANCE 24’s Christopher Moore said the opposition leadership has been calling for a more robust military response.

“They’re trying to get behind the British and French message that NATO needs to do more in terms of attacking Gaddafi’s heavy weaponry,” said Moore. “It’s a sentiment being echoed here in the streets of Benghazi, with protesters out on the street saying they were much happier when Britain and France were in charge, rather than NATO.”

NATO officials, however, have defended the operation in Libya, stressing that the changing tactics of Gaddafi troops – including the use of civilian clothes and pickup trucks, instead of tanks – have increased the complexity of the air mission.

In his address Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance needed more aircraft and sophisticated equipment to attack Gaddafi's forces in populated areas.

“To avoid civilian casualties we need very sophisticated equipment, so we need a few more precision fighter ground-attack aircraft for air-to-ground missions,'' he said. “I don't have specific pledges or promises from this meeting, but I heard indications that gave me hope,'' said Rasmussen.

Without US leadership, NATO enters unchartered waters

But not all members of the alliance support increased engagement, with countries such as Germany and Turkey opposing military action and calling for a political solution to the Libyan crisis.

Reporting from Berlin, FRANCE 24’s Abby D'Arcy Hughes said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle had taken an “I told you so” attitude over the past few days amid mounting evidence that the power balance in Libya had reached a stalemate.

“The German position has soured relations with other NATO members,” D'Arcy Hughes said, noting that the alliance faces a challenge at Thursday’s talks to forge a path forward. “This will be an interesting meeting for NATO because it’s very much new territory for the military alliance with the US now taking a backseat.”



Date created : 2011-04-14


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