NATO allies eye compromise on Libya command

French jets launched the first salvos in the campaign 
© AFP Stephan Agostini


BRUSSELS (AFP) – NATO on Wednesday debated whether the alliance should join the no-fly zone in Libya, as Western allies sought to overcome divisions over giving the military organisation control of operations.

France has resisted giving NATO command of the international campaign, warning that running operations under the Western alliance’s flag could alienate Arab nations that it wants to bring into the action.

After days of sometimes heated debate, NATO ambassadors were holding a new round of talks on Wednesday on whether to join the coalition that has enforced the no-fly zone over Libya.

“They will discuss everything that is necessary to implement a no-fly zone,” a NATO official said.

NATO members France, Britain and the United States have led the action in Libya, conducting air strikes and launching sea-based missiles against Moamer Kadhafi’s regime.

But several NATO allies taking part have called for control to be handed to the 28-nation military organisation.

They would also have to overcome deep reservations from Turkey, NATO’s sole predominantly Muslim member and a key player in the Middle East, which has slammed the air strikes.

Eager to hand over the lead for the mission to someone else, the United States said on Tuesday that the US, French and British leaders had all agreed that NATO should play a “key role” in the future command structure.

An arrangement proposed by France would give a special committee of foreign ministers from the international coalition political control of the mission, with Arab participation.

Such a committee could take over the role of NATO’s decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, leaving out NATO members opposed to the air strikes such as Turkey.

“It would avoid putting countries that refuse to take part in the operations in an embarrassing situation,” leading French security analyst Francois Heisbourg told AFP.

NATO could then be left with the task of running day-to-day operations, Heisbourg said, although he stressed that the allies still need to clarify the details of the proposal.

A French diplomatic source said the no-fly operations, and an arms embargo that NATO agreed to enforce, could be run out of NATO’s naval base in Naples, Italy.

“We are confident that we will be able to work out an effective mechanism that takes advantage of the practical capacities that NATO can bring to bear,” said a senior US administration official.

This mechanism would also make clear “that NATO is only a part of this effort and it does involve a wider coalition which already involves some Arab participation and I believe is going to involve wider Arab participation in the coming days,” the official said.

 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told ABC News in an interview that the discussions were “moving forward in the right direction, and we will have what we need in the next few days.”

“Those who are members of NATO want to see a role for NATO,” she explained. “But we also want to integrate our other partners. We don’t want those who are not in NATO to feel that they’re on the outside looking in.”

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe justified France’s refusal to let NATO run the show, saying that “Arab nations do not want an operation under the NATO flag.”

Heisbourg said the French fears were well-founded.

“The French are right to warn that the symbolic and political weight of NATO in political control of this campaign would be very badly seen in the Arab world,” he said.

“NATO is the institutional incarnation of the West,” Heisbourg said. “There’s nothing more Western than NATO.”

© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license

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