UK pushes EU to demand that Gaddafi quit


Britain and Germany want EU emergency summit to call for Libyan leader to step down, as pressure grows over no-fly zone

Ian Black, Middle East editor, Ewen MacAskill in Brussels and Nicholas Watt

Britain and Germany have told Cathy Ashton the EU should call for Libya's Gaddafi to step aside
Britain and Germany have written to EU foreign policy chief, Baroness Cathy Ashton, saying the union should agree a declaration that Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, step aside. Photograph: Thierry Suzan/EPA

Britain is pressing for a European Union emergency summit declaration calling for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to step down, as pressure grows to impose a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace.
In a joint letter with Germany, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, said the upheaval in the EU’s “southern neighbourhood” presented Europe with a challenge and an opportunity on a scale matching the revolutions of 1989.
The letter, sent to EU foreign policy chief, Baroness Cathy Ashton, said the union should agree a declaration that “the EU and its member states will not work or co-operate with Gaddafi and that he has to step aside to allow for a true democratic transformation of the country”.
The British government’s calls for a declaration on Gaddafi came after Ashton told MEPs in Strasbourg that the dictator “should be sent back into the cold”.
After hosting talks in Brussels on Thursday with EU foreign ministers on the medium-term response to the crisis in Libya, Ashton will go to Nato headquarters to join alliance defence ministers, including the British defence secretary, Liam Fox, to discuss the prospects for implementing a no-fly zone.
No immediate decisions are likely, and the Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, insisted the organisation was engaged in “prudent planning” – assessing various potential responses to the developing crisis.
He said the alliance had no intention of intervening and would do so only if the security council called for it.
“However, it is an evolving situation and I can’t imagine the international community and the UN would stand idly by if Gaddafi and his regime continue to attack their own people,” he said.
Any no-fly zone would require a UN mandate and significant support, particularly from countries in the region. Washington has made clear that any agreed military operations – including the establishment of a no-fly zone – would be best conducted by Nato.
Britain and France are drafting a resolution for the UN security council that includes a no-fly zone, but they have yet to win US support. Russia or China would almost certainly veto any military intervention.
Britain believes there are four priorities for the Nato meeting. These were agreed by David Cameron and Barack Obama in a telephone conversation on Tuesday. They are: surveillance of Libya as a possible precursor to a no-fly zone; humanitarian assistance; work on a no-fly zone; and a tightening of the arms embargo on Libya aimed at members of Gaddafi’s regime.
Britain will be pressing for a no-fly zone at the meeting, though Turkey, Nato’s third-largest member, is opposed, as is Russia. Britain is keeping its options open by saying only that a no-fly zone needed to operate on an “appropriate legal basis”.
The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, has resisted pressure over the zone. He complained about “loose talk” over the possible military options after a no-fly zone was openly advocated by Cameron a week ago.
“Let’s just call a spade a spade,” he told a congressional committee. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defences. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone.”
His scepticism reflects the views of US commanders, who are reluctant to open up a new front when they already feel stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But Fox shrugged off Gates’s comments, saying a no-fly zone need not begin with an attack on Libya’s air defences.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “That is one military option but there are other military options. In Iraq that was not the way that we carried out the no-fly zone – there are alternatives.
“Rather than taking out air defences, you can say that: ‘If your air defence radar locks on to any of our aircraft, we regard that as a hostile act and we would take subsequent action.'”
He said Britain would want to look at all the options.
“This is some way down the road yet and one of the points of having all the ministers today – not only the general sessions we will have, but the very wide range of bilaterals throughout the day – will be to make sure that we know what one another think and that we are all on the same page in terms of how we respond to the problems that we face in Libya.”
A Nato source said not only would there be no decision on a no-fly zone, but it was unlikely there would be a joint communique either. Gaddafi, in spite of outrageous acts against his own people, had not done enough to trigger intervention under international law, the source admitted.
Nato has set out three principles for intervention: a major atrocity by Gaddafi against civilians, a strong case under international law, and regional support.
The rebel movement in eastern Libya said it did not see any problem over obtaining more weapons. Mustafa Gheriani, media officer for the rebel National Libyan Council in Benghazi, said: “Our military committee is assessing what we need. A no-fly zone will be great, but our troops will also be facing tanks. We will see whether we need to make [arms] purchases. I do not see getting arms as an issue. Qatar and many other countries have offered to help.”
The White House said the UN arms embargo on Libya contained enough flexibility to allow the arming of the rebels if such a decision were made.
Gaddafi, who has been in power for 41 years, has repeatedly said he would die in Libya rather than flee. But that has failed to stem speculation about his plans.
Noman Benotman, a Libyan-born analyst, said Gaddafi’s inner circle had talked to to countries in Africa and Latin America about providing him with refuge if he had to flee.
“It’s provisional, it’s a testing of the waters, it’s just preparing for the future,” Benotman told Reuters. “It may also be a deception, to try to unsettle the international community. But the contacts definitely happened.”

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