Split leaves NATO on sidelines of Libya strikes

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A push by several allies for NATO to take over operations in Libya ran into resistance from France on Monday, as the alliance remained on the sidelines of the international campaign.

As a Western coalition fired a barrage of missiles on Moamer Kadhafi's forces at the weekend, NATO debated whether, and in what form, the Western military organisation should join the UN-mandated intervention.

NATO members France, Britain and the United States have acted as individual nations in the air and sea campaign against Kadhafi's regime, but London, Rome and several other alliance members favour a centralised NATO command.

"We believe it's time to move from a coalition of the willing towards a bit more coordinated approach under NATO," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters ahead of talks with EU counterparts in Brussels.

A European diplomat said: "We don't know who's doing what with separate commands."

France, whose fighter jets launched the first salvos in the campaign against Kadhafi on Saturday, has resisted handing the baton to NATO, fearing a backlash from the Arab world if the alliance intervenes.

"France are the only ones opposed to a unified command under NATO. It is completely isolated," the diplomat said.

But Germany and Turkey have also displayed reluctance about a NATO role.

A day after the Arab League questioned Western strikes despite having given its support for a no-fly zone, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Berlin was comforted by its decision to stay out of the conflict.

"We calculated the risks, and when we see that three days after this intervention began, the Arab League has already criticised this intervention, I think we see we had good reasons," he said.

Berlin abstained last week from the UN Security Council vote that authorised "all necessary measures" to protect civilians in Libya.

Turkey effectively delayed a decision as it called during a NATO meeting Sunday for a review of the no-fly zone contingency plans, stressing that civilians must be protected as the alliance mulled its role, NATO diplomats said.

NATO ambassadors were meeting for a new round of talks on Monday to discuss the plans being considered by the alliance, which also include securing humanitarian aid operations and enforcing an arms embargo.

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC on Sunday that he hoped NATO would take command of the campaign "in the next few days" but that it is "all dependent upon getting agreement from all the NATO nations."

"Some of our allies have been worried that this is, this might not be the best way to get Arab participation in the coalition," Fox said.

Other smaller NATO members insist that the alliance is the best vehicle to steer the complex operations in Libya, which involve an armada of warplanes and warships scattered across Mediterranean bases.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn lamented that the "game between the coalition and NATO is undermining the whole international community."

Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen, whose country already has F-16s in the air over Libya but also is a committed NATO member, said she hoped that alliance members "who have raised concern would put that concern aside and let NATO play an active role."

© 2011 AFP

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