By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A divided U.N. Security Council discussed on Monday the possibility of authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya after the Arab League called during the weekend for the 15-nation body to act.
France, which along with Britain has led calls for an enforced ban on military flights across the North African oil-producing state, said it hoped the Arab League decision to ask the council to impose a no-fly zone would persuade reluctant members to support it.
"Now that there is this Arab League statement, we do hope that it's a game changer for the other members of the council," French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said before the closed-door council meeting. "And we do hope that these consultations will allow us, later on this week, to work on the resolution."
He told reporters that Lebanon, the sole Arab member of the council, would play a key role in negotiations on a draft resolution authorizing a no-fly zone. He added that council members would not be receiving a draft resolution on Monday.
Araud declined to comment when asked if he thought it might be too late for a no-fly zone over Libya, where forces loyal to leader Muammar Gaddafi have launched a fierce counter-offensive against rebels trying to oust him and end his 41-year rule.
France was the first country to recognize the rebel government as Libya's legitimate representatives.
Lebanese Ambassador Nawaf Salam, asked if it was too late for a no-fly zone, told reporters: "It's never too late."
One council diplomat told Reuters from inside the meeting that no real agreement was emerging.
"Many are asking questions on the no-fly zone which remain unanswered, such as who will it be, how will it be implemented, etcetera," a diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "Since there is no text, there is little consensus."
He added there was also discussion of the possibility of beefing up the sanctions against Gaddafi and his family and inner circle approved by the Security Council on February 26.
The United States is among the council members that has yet to make a decision on whether to support a no-fly zone. Other skeptics include veto powers Russia and China, along with Germany, South Africa and Brazil, diplomats told Reuters.
In order to pass, Security Council resolutions need nine votes in favor and no vetoes from the five permanent members. It was not clear when the council might be prepared to vote on a resolution.
NATO, the most likely candidate for enforcing a no-fly zone, has made clear that Security Council authorization would be required if it was to get involved in such an operation.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; editing by John Whitesides)