NATO to Lead on Libya Ties, Panetta Says

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta declined on Tuesday to say whether the United States would have a future military relationship with Libya and instead said he would take cues from allies in Europe.

"What I would do at this point is leave the decision as to a future security involvement in the hands of NATO," Mr. Panetta said. "And then, beyond that, that will give us a basis on which to determine whether there's an additional role that we can play."

Mr. Panetta's comment reflected the unease within the Pentagon about the rebels who ousted Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from power and their ability to form a government and create a security force. Those concerns increased last week as international calls mounted for Libya's interim leaders to provide a full accounting of the moments before Colonel Qaddafi's violent, bloody death, apparently while in custody of the former rebels.

But initial concerns within the Obama administration that the rebels might have ties to Al Qaeda and other militant groups have for the most part been assuaged. The United States maintains military ties with many nations around the world, and also frequently trains foreign militaries.

Mr. Panetta also said it was imperative to find and secure Libya's conventional weapons arsenal, which was ransacked during the fall of Colonel Qaddafi's government. American officials are concerned that the weapons could be sold through black markets to other countries and could arm terrorist groups.

Mr. Panetta spoke at a joint news conference with the Japanese defense minister, Yasuo Ichikawa, during a weeklong trip to Asia. Mr. Panetta also met on Tuesday with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba.

Mr. Panetta and Mr. Ichikawa agreed to seek quick progress on a stalled deal to relocate an American air base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. The 2010 agreement to move the Futenma base to a less populated part of the island has faced fierce opposition from the public on Okinawa, where the American military already has a large presence.

Trying to show concrete progress on an issue that has bedeviled previous Japanese administrations, Mr. Ichikawa said his government would complete an environmental impact report on the new base by year's end. Mr. Panetta characterized the statement as "important progress towards beginning to complete the preliminary steps that have to be taken."

[Source: By Elisabeth Bumiller and Martin Fackler, The New York Times, Tokyo, 25Oct11]

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