G8 shies away from Libya intervention

2011-03-15 12:35

Paris – Group of Eight (G8) powers shied away from military action to protect Libyans from assault by ruler Muammar Gaddafi’s forces, laying it off to the UN Security Council (UNSC) today.

France and Britain had been pushing for intervention to ground Libyan warplanes and France had even talked of targeted air strikes against Gaddafi’s strategic sites.

“For the moment I have not convinced them,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Europe 1 radio, after trying to rally fellow G8 foreign ministers at a dinner last night.

They agreed instead “to immediately relaunch a discussion at the UN Security Council, and that is under way today, to take up a resolution and raise the pressure against the Gaddafi regime”.

Juppe said Gaddafi was outgunning Libya’s rebels, whom the leader of four decades has driven out of several towns with shelling and airstrikes. France had led a drive for a no-fly zone to prevent this.

“Gaddafi is scoring points,” Juppe said. “We have perhaps missed a chance to restore the balance,” he added, judging that there was nothing to stop Gaddafi seizing the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

“Currently we do not have the military means because the international community has not decided to provide them,” Juppe said.

He cited a sea blockade among possible alternative means of applying pressure.

A senior US official told reporters there was a “sense of urgency” at yesterday’s dinner about the humanitarian and political situation in Libya.

They agreed to turn to the UNSC “for a full and public discussion of what all of the measures that have been discussed entail,” said a US official, who asked not to be named.

Some ministers talked of no-fly zones, others “safety zones”, and others talked of further sanctions, he added.

They agreed on the need to “increase pressure” on Gaddafi and “stop the regime from using force” against Libyans.

In a no-fly zone, US and Nato warplanes would ground Gaddafi’s air power to protect civilians and the opposition – but would likely need hundreds of planes to police the skies over Libya’s vast territory.

The plan was backed by the 22-nation Arab League, considered crucial for dealing with the region.

Britain and France, which are drafting a resolution for the Security Council, failed to convince their European Union partners and permanent Security Council members Russia and the US.

China, the only veto-wielding member of the Security Council not represented at the Paris G8 talks, also opposes a no-fly zone.

The Libyan opposition national council’s representative Mahmoud Jibril and his delegation have been seeking formal support abroad and a no-fly zone.

France has taken the lead in formally recognising the council as Libya’s legitimate representatives.

The US and the European Union have hesitated to formally recognise them, seeking to know more about them first.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a 45-minute “private and candid” conversation with Jibril about how Washington could support the opposition against Gaddafi, her top aide Philippe Reines told reporters.

She stopped short of pledging US support for military aid.

A senior US official later said the United States had named as its special envoy to the council Chris Stevens, previously its deputy chief of mission in Tripoli.

“The intention is for him to go to Benghazi,” a senior administration official told reporters.

Further G8 talks were due this morning followed by news conferences in the afternoon.

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