US presses Europe on Libya, Germany gets tough

AP News
Posted: Feb 28, 2011 7:54 AM
US presses Europe on Libya, Germany gets tough

The United States pressed its European allies on Monday to set tough sanctions on the Libyan government, and Germany responded with a far-reaching proposal to cut off all oil and other payments to the country for 60 days so that Moammar Gadhafi's regime cannot use the money to repress his people.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle's call essentially amounted to an economic embargo and ranks among the toughest proposal yet aimed at forcing Gadhafi to stem attacks on his opponents and leave power after 42 years in control of his country. He spoke as doubts emerged about the feasibility of another central idea to punish Gadhafi, a no-fly zone that would prevent him from launching aerial attacks.

"We must do everything so this murder ends," Westerwelle told reporters. "We must do everything to ensure that no money is going into the hands of the Libyan dictator's family, that they don't have any opportunity to hire new foreign soldiers to repress their people with."

Westerwelle made the announcement after meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other foreign ministers. He said he was only speaking for Germany, but insisted that his call had found some support from other countries.

Clinton was also making the administration's case for stronger action to foreign ministers from Britain, France and Italy as part of a series of high-level talks in this Swiss city. She also met with the European Union's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, who told reporters that European governments would set new sanctions on Gadhafi's regime such as an embargo on equipment that might be used against Libyans.

Clinton also met with the foreign policy chiefs of Russia and Australia as part of the effort to coordinate unified international opposition to the attacks that have killed hundreds of people in the North African country. Senior Obama administration officials said the discussions would touch on future sanctions that might be applied to Gadhafi's regime, but the proposal for a possible no-fly zone over the country appeared to divide nations.

Russia's foreign minister said he had no talks with Clinton about the proposal. "Absolutely not," Sergey Lavrov said as he emerged from his meeting with Clinton. "It was not mentioned by anyone."

And in Paris, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said a no-fly zone needed U.N. support "which is far from being obtained today." He also questioned whether NATO should get involved in a civil war in a North African country.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of Italy, whose bases would be the most logical place from which to monitor the no-fly zone, said the issue was under discussion but said the logistics would be difficult.

"We should discuss all the consequences," Frattini said after meeting Clinton. He said it would have to be clear what country was "in position to put military bases at their disposal, and who is in position to participate actively with military planes ready to enforce the decision of a no-fly zone."

While Western officials privately raised doubts about how countries could enforce such an order, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd proceeded straight from his meeting with Clinton to the U.N. Human Rights Council, and announced his country's support for moves to establish a no-fly zone at the Security Council.

"Guernica is known throughout the world for the bombing of the civilian population," Rudd told The Associated Press, referring to the massacre during the Spanish Civil War. "We have seen evidence of that in Libya. Let us not simply stand idly by while similar atrocities are committed again."

Key Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, also have called for the no-fly zone, though the administration's position wasn't clear.

Senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning, said Clinton was exploring with her international counterparts different strategies to turn up the heat on Gadhafi and convince his remaining loyalists to abandon the regime. The Obama administration has declared it wants the Libyan leader to leave power immediately and that it stands ready to aid Libyans seeking to overthrow his government.

"We want him to leave and we want him to end his regime and call off the mercenaries and those troops that remain loyal to him," Clinton told reporters Sunday, a day after President Barack Obama branded Gadhafi an illegitimate ruler who must leave power.

The administration hoped for EU sanctions Monday and pointed to the far larger economic impact they could have because most of Libya's exports go to the continent.

That means, as with Iran, concerted European action affecting oil, trade or investment relations with Libya could deal a crippling blow to Gadhafi's economy whereas the impact of American sanctions is more limited. While an official said "substantial" Libyan assets based in the U.S. were blocked by the administration last week, the effect of Europeans "mirroring" those penalties could do more to prod Gadhafi's closest allies to abandon ship.


Associated Press writer Frank Jordans contributed to this story.