France fails to get G8 accord on Libya no-fly zone

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2011 12:01 PM
France fails to get G8 accord on Libya no-fly zone

By Tim Hepher and John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - France failed on Tuesday to persuade its G8 partners to support its push for a no-fly zone over Libya, a setback to any chances of swift action to halt Muammar Gaddafi's advance against rebel forces.

In a blow too to France's efforts to use the crisis in Libya to reassert its leadership in international diplomacy, a draft communique for the Group of Eight meeting made no mention of a no-fly zone over the North African nation.

The flight restrictions sought by France and Britain were blocked by Russia and Germany during Tuesday's talks, a delegation source told Reuters, asking not to be identified.

"Military intervention is not the solution. From our point of view it is very difficult and dangerous," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle later told reporters.

"We do not want to get sucked into a war in North Africa and we would not like to step on a slippery slope where we all are at the end in a war," he said.

The G8 communique, a draft of which was obtained by Reuters, merely stated that Libyans had the right to democracy and that Gaddafi faced "dire consequences" if he ignored citizens' rights, and urged the U.N. Security Council to increase pressure on him, including via economic measures.

The draft also stressed the importance of the Arab League's involvement in any international action taken in Libya.

France and Britain have led calls for an internationally enforced no-fly zone to slow the advance of Gaddafi's troops, who are using airpower and tanks to crush a revolt by poorly armed rebels against 41 years of authoritarian rule.

Halfway through the first meeting of France's G8 presidency, which has been dominated by Libya, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe admitted to a stalemate that echoed a lack of consensus within the U.N. Security Council on the issue.

"So far I have not convinced them," he told Europe 1 radio.

Instead, foreign ministers in Paris discussed options including establishing "safety zones" in Libya and ramping up sanctions on the OPEC oil exporter.

CLINTON MISSES MOST OF TALKS

The Arab League called at the weekend for a no-fly zone, but the United States wants more clarity on what exactly that would entail, and Russia says it has questions about the idea.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the G8 powers agreed on the need for further measures but not on what they might be. He stressed any action would be agreed via the U.N. Security Council.

"There is common ground here in the G8 and while not every nation sees eye to eye on issues such as the no-fly zone, there is a common appetite to increase the pressure on Gaddafi," he told reporters, mentioning tighter sanctions as one idea.

"We are clear here at the G8 that there is a need for further measures, a need to respond urgently," he said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron "thinks we need to bring more pressure to bear on the regime," his spokesman told reporters in London. "He thinks we need to be considering very seriously the option of a no-fly zone," though this would be a "difficult" discussion, the spokesman said.

G8 officials conceded late on Monday that they would not recommend a no-fly zone but left open the possibility of pressing the U.N. Security Council to discuss measures including a flight ban. By Tuesday, draft communiques circulating made no mention of a no-fly zone because of what one delegate described as Russian and German insistence that the words be taken out.

France's failure to secure a stronger G8 agreement will irk President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is intent on showing leadership on Libya to repair the damage to France's image from its foreign policy blunders during the revolt in Tunisia.

Juppe -- appointed by Sarkozy last month when Michele Alliot-Marie quit over her clumsy handling of Tunisia -- said that while the international community dragged its feet on action, Gaddafi's forces were advancing.

"If we had used military force last week ... maybe the reversal that went against the opposition (forces) would not have happened," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met privately in Paris late on Monday with Mahmoud Jebril, a member of the Libyan National Council, the opposition group that is seeking international support for its fight against Gaddafi's forces.

They discussed how the United States can help the Libyan people against Gaddafi's forces, said Philippe Reines, a State Department spokesman traveling with Clinton.

Clinton left Paris for Cairo early on Tuesday and did not take part in the main session of the G8 talks.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said late on Monday Russia had argued that a no-fly zone would not be effective and could be counterproductive. He said that rather than push for a no-fly zone, the G8 would urge the Security Council to discuss other measures that could curb the violence in Libya.

Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hidenobu Sobashima said Japan also questioned the justification of a no-fly zone.

(Additional reporting by Vicky Buffery and Laure Bretton; Writing by Catherine Bremer; editing by Tim Pearce)