London meeting to clarify politics of Libya action
More than 40 delegates from the anti-Gaddafi coalition, the EU, the UN, the Arab League and the African Union are meeting in London on Tuesday (29 March) to establish political 'guidance' and to generate wider support for the Libya operation before Nato takes over.
In a joint letter published ahead of the event, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron said the meeting will create "support for a new beginning for Libya."
"We emphasise that we do not envisage any military occupation of Libya," it added. "That is why the political process that will begin tomorrow in London is so important. The London conference will bring the international community together to support Libya's transition from violent dictatorship and to help create the conditions where the people of Libya can choose their own future."
Recognising the rebels' Benghazi-based Interim National Transitional Council as having a "pioneering role" in starting a "national political dialogue," Cameron and Sarkozy called on all Gaddafi followers "to leave him before it is too late."
They noted that the 11 days of air strikes have saved "hundreds of thousands of people from the brink of humanitarian disaster." But they noted that Libya still needs outside help to avert a "humanitarian crisis."
Nato will on Wednesday take over military command of the operation, which is to be renamed Unified Protector, despite Sarkozy's endeavours to play the leading role himself for as long as possible.
But the day-earlier London event will set up a "contact group" of Nato and non-Nato countries supporting the mission to give "political steering" to the military action, one EU diplomat told this website.
France has voiced concern that al-Qaeda or other Islamist groups will portray the Nato-flag missions as Western imperialism. The leaders of Nato members Turkey and Bulgaria gave credence to the theory in recent days, saying the Libya action is a Western oil grab.
The only top EU official in the room in London will be foreign affairs supremo Catherine Ashton, who is in charge of EU-level humanitarian assistance and political co-ordination.
Speaking about her low profile on Libya so far - a senior EU official said that up until now decisions had to be taken at the level of heads of state and government only. "This was 'chefsache' - not a decision to be taken by foreign ministers," he said, using a German term meaning a something that only leaders can deal with.
The source added that "Europe had a broad common position" on Libya despite German abstention in a key UN vote, noting that the Russian PM and President and the US defence chief and his president were all involved in public disputes over whether or not to go in.
Asked if the EU missed an opportunity to take charge of events in the early days of anti-Gaddafi coalition-building, he said: "No, it showed flexibility. We are not a military organisation, we can send in crisis management teams, but that's something else. What we did, we gave political backing of the EU as a whole to the international coalition."
For its part, the White House is keen to give control to Nato to help get the anti-war Republican opposition off its back.
Power and responsibility
Speaking at the National Defence University in Washington on Monday, President Barack Obama said that from Wednesday onward "the United States will play a supporting role" and that "the risk and cost of this operation - to our military and to American taxpayers - will be reduced significantly."
At a time of growing concern over the potential for massacres in Syria and Yemen, he noted that "we cannot use our military whenever repression occurs."
But he added that the US, as a superpower with the means to stop mass killings, had a "responsibility" to act.
"Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action," Obama said.
"Forty years of tyranny has left Libya fractured and without strong civil institutions. The transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people will be a difficult task."
[Source: By Valentina Pop, Euobserber, Brussels, 29Mar11]
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