EU chiefs divided over how to force Gaddafi to leave
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France and Britain pushed for recognition of Libya's rebel National Transitional Council and called for targeted strikes where necessary at an EU summit on Friday, putting them at odds with their European partners.
AFP - Britain and France ramped up pressure on Moamer Kadhafi Friday, calling for targeted strikes if he bombs his own people, as a crisis summit exposed an EU rift over how to force the Libyan leader out.
The pivotal summit, capping 48 hours of talks also involving NATO defence ministers and European Union foreign ministers, opened with the 27-nation bloc divided over military action as well as a British-French push for formal recognition of Kadhafi's opponents.
All agreed, however, on the need for the Libyan leader to go.
France’s recognition of Libya’s interim Transitional National Council (TNC) has taken other EU countries by surprise.
One unnamed diplomat said: "Should we engage with the TNC? Yes. But to recognise them straightaway, that is something we cannot do. We are surprised at France's declaration."
German Foreign Affairs Secretary Werner Hoyer said the situation in Libya “remained too confused to decide how we should proceed”, even if Gaddafi’s government has been discredited.
In response to a French call for targeted airstrikes, Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westewelle added: “We do not want to get embroiled in a North African War”.
"It must be made clear: a person waging war on his own people cannot be a partner for talks with the European Union," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"That is why we demand Kadhafi's immediate resignation," she said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy went into the talks urging partners to extend formal recognition to Libya's opposition while working on contingency planning for military action.
"We are going to step up today measures in the European Council (summit) to put pressure on that regime, measures to isolate that regime," Cameron said.
"We should also plan for every eventuality," he said. "This is absolutely vital."
Britain and France have a draft resolution in hand to put to the United Nations Security Council for an air exclusion zone over the oil-rich country. But the council remains split on the issue and even allies Germany and Italy have sounded words of warning.
Piling pressure on Tripoli but surprising EU diplomats, Sarkozy said Paris and London favoured targeted strikes in Libya in case Kadhafi bombed his people.
Sarkozy said Paris had "many reservations" on military or NATO intervention in Libya "because Arab revolutions belong to Arabs."
But he and Cameron were "ready, on condition that the UN wishes, that the Arab League accepts and that the Libyan opposition, which we hope to see recognised, agrees, for targeted actions if Mr Kadhafi uses chemical weapons or air power against peaceful citizens".
Sarkozy also called on his European partners to follow France's lead and officially recognise the Libyan opposition.
France on Thursday moved to recognise the rebels as the country's rightful representatives, sparking surprise among some of its European partners, including Germany, amid fears of getting dragged into a bloody civil war.
"Our assessment is Sarkozy is playing to a domestic audience," said an EU diplomat who asked not to be named.
Combined with the possibility of military action, the summit is likely to prove contentious as leaders try to map out some common ground.
The premier of small but influential Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, went into the talks slamming Sarkozy for going it alone in recognising Libya's rebels in a much-publicised move on the eve of the Brussels talks.
"I believe Europeans would be well advised to take the decisions they need to take at the meeting and not a day before," Juncker said.
"Colonel Kadhafi must relinquish power immediately," the EU leaders will say at the talks, according to the latest draft of summit conclusions obtained by AFP.
The document also calls for planning with NATO allies for a possible no-fly zone -- an issue expected to dominate the talks.
"We do not want to get sucked into a war in North Africa," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Thursday.
"We want to have freedom. We want to support peace," he said. But decisions had to be taken wisely and with care, he added.
At two-day NATO defence ministers' talks that began Thursday, the alliance agreed to send more ships towards Libya's coast but delayed any decision on imposing a no-fly zone, saying clear UN approval for military action was needed first.
"There is no rush to move forward without the UN," the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told a group of reporters as the bloc tightened the screws on Kadhafi with a batch of new sanctions targeting key Tripoli firms.
On military as well as on political options towards Libya and the Arab world at large, Europe needed to move in concert with the region, notably the Arab League which meets in Cairo this weekend, she said.
"We have to work closely with the region in our approach," said Ashton who will be flying to Cairo on Sunday to debrief Arab League leader Amr Mussa.
"The Arab world has to lead."