France pushing for swift G8 agreement on Libya

Reuters News
|
Posted: Mar 21, 2011 10:36 AM
France pushing for swift G8 agreement on Libya

By Arshad Mohammed and John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - France pressured G8 foreign ministers on Monday to agree action on Libya and back its efforts to speed up a U.N. Security Council decision on imposing a no-fly zone in Libya sought by anti-Gaddafi rebels.

Libya was the main issue in talks between President Nicolas Sarkozy and Group of Eight foreign ministers including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ahead of a formal dinner to kick off the first gathering of France's G8 presidency.

France and Britain have led calls to impose a no-fly zone and a French diplomatic source said Paris was pushing the issue with G8 foreign ministers arriving for talks that will wind up with a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Clinton met United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan, whose country chairs the Gulf Cooperation Council, but gave little away afterwards.

"I am looking forward to talking with my colleague, counterpart and friend, Sheikh Abdullah, about the events in the region and obviously that includes everything that is happening," she told reporters, asked about the U.S. position on the Arab League's call at the weekend for a no-fly zone.

The United States on Monday urged Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries to show restraint as Saudi forces moved into Bahrain after weeks of protests by the Shi'ite Muslim majority against the Sunni royal family that controls the key U.S. ally.

Bahraini opposition groups described the Saudi move as "an undeclared war" that put the Bahraini people in real danger.

Sheikh Abdullah said the UAE had sent some 500 police officers into the kingdom to help calm the protests.

CLINTON TO MEET LIBYAN OPPOSITION

The French Foreign Ministry declined to comment on an al Jazeera report that the United States, Britain and France had already promised rebels in eastern Libya to set up a no-fly zone to help them fight government forces.

A source close to the U.S. government said the report sounded premature, although consultations were taking place.

Muammar Gaddafi's troops are using tanks and planes to crush rebel forces fighting to end 41 years of authoritarian rule, and security analysts fear the Libyan leader could retake control before world powers agree on a course of action.

Clinton was due to meet Libyan opposition figures in Paris later on Monday evening.

With violence worsening, "no option can be ruled out," Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told a news briefing.

He said conclusions from a March 11 European Union summit and the Arab League's no-fly zone call showed the international will to protect civilians in Libya.

"This issue will be discussed as a priority at the foreign minister's meeting with his G8 counterparts with the aim of reaching an agreement that will enable the Security Council ... to move forward as fast as possible," he said.

The crisis in Japan, where a massive earthquake and tsunami have killed at least 10,000 people and set off a nuclear accident, and unrest across north Africa will be on the table at the G8 talks, grouping the foreign ministers of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.

On Libya, Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said Canada did not rule out backing a no-fly zone but first wanted more details of how such an option would be implemented.

"It is important to be able to measure the effectiveness of the options being put forward," Cannon told reporters, adding that Canada would propose the G8 imposes stronger sanctions on Libya than have been agreed so far by the United Nations.

The United Nations Security Council met on Monday to discuss the Arab League's weekend call for a U.N. no-fly zone.

NATO has set three conditions for the policing of Libyan air space: regional support for the motion, proof outside help is needed and a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Britain said there had been no change in its position of support for imposing a no-fly zone to shield Libyans from Gaddafi's air power. "Contingency planning continues for this and other options," a government spokesman said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said before traveling to Paris that international powers should consider arming Libyan rebels, even though that would require lifting a United Nations arms embargo on the country.

Calls by Britain and France for a no-fly zone have met some reluctance from fellow G8 members Russia and the United States, as well as non-G8 China. At Friday's EU summit, an airborne military option was also played down, specifically by Germany.

Washington has called the Arab League's position important but has been cautious over endorsing military intervention.

(Additional reporting by Vicky Buffery in Paris and Keith Weir and Jon Hemming in London; Writing by Catherine Bremer)