France agrees for key NATO role in Libya fight

AP News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2011 4:58 PM
France agrees for key NATO role in Libya fight

France says it has agreed with the United States that NATO should have a role in coalition's military operations in Libya.

A statement issued in Paris said that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Barack Obama "agreed on the modalities of using the structures of the NATO command to support the coalition."

The statement says both leaders spoke on Tuesday.

Separately, British Prime Minister David Cameron's office said that he and Obama also agreed that NATO should play a key role in commanding the military campaign in Libya.

NATO members, meeting Tuesday in Brussels, agreed to have the alliance use sea power to enforce a U.N arms embargo on Libya.

But the organizations members continued to debate the much more difficult issue of whether the alliance would coordinate enforcement of a U.N. imposed no-fly zone over Libya.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

PARIS (AP) _ With U.S. leaders insisting that a handoff of command of the Libyan operation would come within days, and NATO sidelined by internal division, France has proposed the creation of a committee to run the operation.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Tuesday that the new body would bring together foreign ministers of participating states _ such as Britain, France and the U.S. _ as well as the Arab League. It is expected to meet in coming days, either in Brussels, London or Paris, he added.

Any committee's job will be to bring order to a mission which some observers see as a chaotic effort by member nations with differing objectives _ they are in agreement on getting rid of Moammar Gadhafi, who has ruled Libya for 42 years, but disagree on whether that should be a goal of military action.

Shashank Joshia, an analyst with London-based Royal United Services Institute, says the situation is further confused because the U.S. wants to take a back seat for the first time in years.

Still, as member nations strove to find a common military aim Tuesday, NATO did agree on one action _ to have its warships begin enforcing the U.N. arms embargo. A flotilla consisting of frigates, minesweepers and other ships already in the Mediterranean has been given the mission.

But two diplomats, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said agreement had not yet been reached on whether the alliance should take over enforcement of the no-fly zone, which the U.N. Security Council also approved last week in an effort to prevent government jets from bombing civilians.

Joshia said all the countries in the coalition share a political goal: the fall of Gadhafi. "But not everyone agrees whether this is the military aim," he said.

"Britain and France want to keep this as an option, because they see it as feasible and viable ... while the policy of the U.S. is that they are absolutely not willing to take military action to further that end. They want to set a clear limit to their enmeshment, for symbolic and practical reasons."

NATO, with its vast staffing and experience in coordinating multinational operations, could fill that role, most observers agree, but France and Turkey, both of whom are members, are opposed to NATO taking over. And it would need the approval of all the alliance's 28 members to take such action.

Turkey has blocked the approval, seeking to narrow the mission and ensure that no foreign occupation of Libya would result. And France has said NATO's reputation in the Muslim world is tainted by its military effort in Afghanistan.

In addition, France has historically been uncomfortable with NATO, and only rejoined the alliance's military wing two years ago, after having sat on the sidelines for the previous 42 years.

Nevertheless, Juppe, the French foreign minister said that through the new steering committee the coalition would avail itself of the military alliance's planning and intervention capabilities.

"For us, the intervention is firstly an operation wanted by the United Nations... It is run by a coalition of member-states, all of whom are not members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization," Juppe said.

"This is, therefore, not a NATO operation, even if it must be able to rely on military planning and intervention capacities of the Alliance."

Juppe said that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had proposed the creation of the new body and Britain had agreed to it.

Paris and London pressed early on for a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians from attacks by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. France also took a lead role on Saturday, when it hosted a summit of nations participating in the coalition _ just before the first bombing runs over the North African country by French fighter jets.

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Don Melvin reported from Brussels, and Sylvie Corbet contributed from Paris. AP correspondents from many European countries also contributed to this report.