Russia, NATO clash over Libya campaign
Russia and NATO on Monday failed to narrow their differences over the Western air campaign in Libya, as alliance warplanes stepped up their bombing of regime targets.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused NATO of interpreting a UN resolution in any way it wished, after talks with NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen that showed up differences rather than any agreement on a solution.
The previously scheduled NATO-Russia Council meeting in the Black Sea city of Sochi was joined at the last minute by South African President Jacob Zuma but his presence did not appear to help bring the sides any closer.
"So far, there is no common understanding over how the resolution is being implemented," Lavrov said, referring to the UN Security Council resolution that paved the way for the air campaign.
"We want this resolution to be fulfilled literally, without expanding its interpretation."
Lavrov and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev earlier held talks with Rasmussen in Sochi in a bid to overcome their differences and find a peaceful solution to the Libya crisis.
They were also joined by Zuma who earlier had a bilateral meeting with Medvedev and like Russia is pushing for a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Russia abstained in the resolution vote at the Security Council but has since expressed growing anger over the duration and intensity of the NATO-led air strikes against targets of Moamer Kadhafi's Libyan regime.
Last week Russia was particularly angered by a direct French arms drop to rebels fighting Kadhafi's forces and the two sides made no attempt to hide their differences after the Sochi talks.
"We consider the arms embargo (under the UN Security Council resolution) to be unambiguous," said Lavrov. "Any weapons deliveries are a violation of the resolution," he added.
"They (NATO) have a different opinion -- that the resolution can let anyone do anything."
Rasmussen however vehemently defended the arms drop and said it was in line with the resolution.
"The delivery of weapons has taken place as part of protection of civilians and the ability to protect themselves against attacks," he told reporters.
"So far we have successfully implemented the resolution."
South Africa announced Zuma's visit on Sunday after an African Union (AU) summit sought to push a regional peace plan to end the Libyan conflict -- a blueprint so far rejected by the rebels.
Zuma told Medvedev that meeting with NATO "would be very helpful in terms of our interaction, because they might come to know what preoccupies the AU at the moment".
Russia has advocated the AU taking a leading role in the negotiations and Medvedev's personal envoy Mikhail Margelov held talks in Libya with both representatives of the rebels and Kadhafi's regime last month.
One of the new elements in the road map agreed by the AU on Friday included provisions for a multinational peacekeeping force organised by the United Nations.
But the rebels have thus far rejected the settlement terms proposed by the AU and Russia has also failed to convince Kadhafi to leave.
"There is absolutely no current or future possibility for Kadhafi to remain in Libya," said National Transitional Council Mustafa Mohammed Abdel Jalil.
"There is no escape clause for Kadhafi -- he must be removed from power and face justice," Jalil said in a statement.
The eccentric former Russian governor and current World Chess Federation (FIDE) chief Kirsan Ilyumzhinov told the Interfax news agency from Tripoli that he had just met the Libyan leader's eldest son Muhammad and was again told that Kadhafi would never go.
But NATO data showed Monday that its warplanes have dramatically stepped up their bombing campaign in Libya.
NATO flew 71 strike sorties in 24 hours, nearly double the daily tempo seen in past weeks, pounding targets on the eastern front at Brega and around Tripoli overnight Sunday.
Seventeen strikes hit armoured vehicles, command and control nodes, military storage facilities and a tank in Brega, 150 kilometres (240 kilometres) from the rebel capital Benghazi, NATO said.
The rebels -- who pulled back from the plains on the road to Tripoli to the Nafusa Mountains last week -- have been buoyed by the controversial French arms drops and said they would move to retake a key gateway to Tripoli.
© 2011 AFP