France, Britain warn Libya no-fly zone is possible

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 3:57 PM
France, Britain warn Libya no-fly zone is possible

By Brian Love

PARIS (Reuters) - Britain and France warned Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Thursday that escalating violence against his own people could prompt foreign powers to impose a no-fly zone, but they made clear no such move was imminent.

Europe's two leading military powers also dismissed an offer by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to act as peacebroker after two weeks of bloodshed in the latest uprising in the Arab world.

"Such mediation, designed to allow Gaddafi to stand as his own successor, is obviously unwelcome," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said after talks in Paris with his British counterpart, William Hague.

"We are stating very clearly that we want him to go," the French minister told a joint news conference.

Hague added: "We've also agreed that the international community, including the United States, continue to plan for different contingencies, including a no-fly zone, to ensure we can respond swiftly and resolutely to events in Libya."

Both men said they were working on proposals to put to a European Union leaders' meeting on Libya on March 11 but that an airspace closure would require U.N. backing and support among Arab countries in the region.

Foreign military involvement in Arab countries is a sensitive topic for Western nations uncomfortably aware that Iraq suffered years of bloodletting and al Qaeda violence after a 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.

"France, for its part, does not think that in the current circumstances military intervention, NATO forces, would be welcomed in the south of the Mediterranean, and (it) could be counterproductive," Juppe said.

"That said, given the threats from Colonel Gaddafi, we have to be in a position to react, and that is why we agreed to plans for a no-fly zone over Libya," he added.

France had backed contingency planning on the issue at a NATO meeting held on Wednesday, Juppe said. Hague said there was no difference on strategy between Paris, London and Washington.

However, Germany expressed serious reservations.

"We are at the moment not in the situation to decide this (no-fly zone)," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said during a visit to Slovakia.

"We have many thousands of foreign citizens and we want to fly them out. This is the first point," he told reporters.

"We do not participate, and we do not share a discussion of military intervention, because we think this would be very counterproductive," Westerwelle said.

Rebels fighting against Gaddafi, who control large swathes of the country, have called for foreign air strikes against what they said were foreign mercenaries fighting for the government.

U.S. officials say they are ruling nothing out, though Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this week that a no-fly zone was not an immediate priority.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates highlighted what such a move would entail on Wednesday were it to happen. "It begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses," he said.

Questioned on news of a Chavez offer to mediate, Hague said the Venezuelan leader was "not known for bringing people of very different views together in consensus."

(Reporting by Brian Love and Laure Bretton in Paris and Martin Santa in Bratislava; editing by Paul Taylor)