By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States, France and Britain on Wednesday urged the U.N. Security Council to take swift action on a proposed no-fly zone over Libya, as Washington suggested it might have decided to back the plan.
Britain, France and Lebanon have circulated to the 15-nation council a draft resolution to authorize a no-fly zone to halt Libyan government air strikes on rebels. But the United States, Russia, China, Germany, India and other council members have been either undecided or voiced doubts about the idea.
British, French and Lebanese envoys distributed the draft on Tuesday after the Arab League called on the council over the weekend to establish a no-fly zone in Libya to stop air attacks on rebels by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
In remarks that suggested a reluctant Washington had agreed to support the idea of a no-fly zone, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was hopeful the council would take a vote on a Libya resolution no later than Thursday.
"We are moving as rapidly as we can in New York to see whether we can get additional authorization for the international community to look at a broad range of actions, not just a no-fly zone but other actions as well," Clinton told reporters in Cairo.
"We won't know until there is an actual vote. We're hoping that will be no later than tomorrow," she said.
In an interview with MSNBC, Clinton said "We regret (Gaddafi's) absolute willingness to slaughter his own people."
"But we think that there is a lot that can be done if we can reach international agreement on what should be done," she said.
Washington had reacted cautiously to the calls for a no-fly zone over Libya. It has insisted that Arab nations would have to actively participate in any such zone over Libya.
French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters ahead of a closed-door session to discuss the draft that he hoped for a vote on the resolution by the end of the week, if possible by Thursday evening, a timetable he said was realistic.
'SAVE THE MARTYRED PEOPLE'
French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote a letter to the council, saying it was "high time for the international community, through the Security Council, to pull together ... and respond without delay to the urgent appeal of the League of Arab States" for a no-fly zone.
"Together, we can save the martyred people of Libya," he said. "It is now a matter of days, if not hours. The worst would be that the appeal of the (Arab League) and the Security Council decisions be overruled by the force of arms."
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters that London was also emphasizing the urgency of the situation to fellow council members.
"But obviously we are not going to put a resolution to a vote that is not going to get the requisite number of votes in order to pass."
He said council delegations planned to go through the resolution "paragraph by paragraph."
Lebanese Ambassador Nawaf Salam told reporters that one concern raised by Germany and others -- the apparent clash between the Arab League's call for a no-fly zone and its opposition to foreign military intervention -- was not a contradiction. He said Arab nations would help enforce any no-fly zone authorized by the council.
"There will be a significant Arab participation," he said, without giving details. Salam also called for a swift vote.
The draft resolution says the council "decides to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of (Libya) in order to help protect civilians."
It authorizes member states to "take all necessary measures to enforce compliance" and says countries implementing the ban would be doing so in cooperation with the Arab League and in cooperation with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Ban called on Wednesday for an immediate ceasefire in Libya.
The draft also provides for the expanding of sanctions already slapped by the U.N. council on Libyan leaders on February 26 -- including asset freezes, travel bans and an arms embargo -- to cover all assets abroad of the Gaddafi government.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Cairo and David Morgan in Washington; editing by Mohammad Zargham)