Confusion, Contradiction Follow Announcement of ‘Deal’ on NATO and Libya
(CNSNews.com) – Even after Thursday’s announcement of a “deal” to hand over command of the Libya military operation to NATO, confusion remains over exactly what this will mean in practice.
Specifically, distinctions are now being drawn between two aspects of the mission – enforcement of the “no-fly” zone, and other military actions to protect civilians under threat from Muammar Gaddafi’s forces on the ground.
During four days of talks in Brussels, NATO members have wrangled over the issue of transferring leadership of the mission from the U.S. to the alliance, as President Obama is eager to do.
France and Turkey were at loggerheads on the way forward, following the March 17 U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” short of foreign occupation to protect civilians under threat of attack by the Libyan regime.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy wanted NATO to provide command-and-control of the military operation while a coalition of willing countries – including Arab states to counter the perception of a West-versus-Islam campaign – has separate political control.
(Exactly which countries would be in this coalition was not stated, but a summit hosted by Sarkozy in Paris last Saturday was attended by representatives of the U.S., Canada, Britain, nine other European countries, and five Arab countries – Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iraq, Jordan and Morocco.)
However Turkey, NATO’s only Muslim member, voiced suspicion of French “ulterior motives” in oil-rich Libya and pressed for a handover to complete NATO control.
Thursday’s announcement of a supposed agreement came after a four-way telephone conference between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her French, British and Turkish counterparts.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said afterwards the deal meant that the coalition set up at the Paris summit “is going to give up its mission as soon as possible and hand over the entire operation to NATO with its single command structure.”
But from Sarkozy came precisely the opposite message: Speaking early Friday morning after a meeting of European leaders, he was quoted as saying that while the operational coordination takes places at NATO, “political coordination” will remain “at the level of the coalition.”
Adding to the confusion, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen issued a statement in Brussels saying that the alliance has “now decided to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya,” but then indicated that that was all NATO had agreed to.
Asked about other operations, such as air strikes against Libyan forces threatening civilians, he drew a clear distinction between NATO activity and coalition activity.
“At this moment there will still be a coalition operation and a NATO operation,” Rasmussen replied. “But we are considering whether NATO should take on that broader responsibility, in accordance with the U.N. Security Council resolution. But that decision has not been made yet.”
That statement was baldly contradicted hours later by a senior Obama administration official, during a teleconference briefing arranged by the State Department.
Speaking under ground rules of anonymity, the official said NATO had agreed on Thursday both to take over enforcement of the no-fly zone, and “to take on the protection of civilian and civilian areas through the use of counter-military power, the kind of things that the coalition is doing now.”
The official was asked several times during the briefing about how this squared with Rasmussen’s apparently conflicting statement, but was adamant.
“There is now consensus at 28 members of the alliance that NATO should include in its mission and under its command and control not just the no-fly zone but also the need to protect civilians,” he said.
The British government is hosting a second Libya summit, in London next Tuesday, at which further decisions may be taken.
In a statement Thursday night, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Clinton would attend the meeting in London “to discuss the Libyan crisis, including ongoing implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 and the humanitarian needs of those affected by the conflict.”
Resolution 1970, adopted unanimously on February 26, imposed sanctions on the Gaddafi regime and referring the case to the International Criminal Court; resolution 1973 was the one passed on March 17, authorizing military intervention.
When the coalition air strikes began last weekend, White House officials including National Security Adviser Tom Donilon pledged that the U.S. would relinquish the lead role “in a matter of days, not weeks.”
On Thursday, ahead of the announcement of a NATO deal, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration was “still operating under that timeline that it will be days, not weeks.”
Asked what Obama envisioned would be the U.S. role after that handover takes place, Carney said it would be “a support and assist role.”
“We’ve talked about jamming, as well as intelligence and other things that we can bring to bear, some of the capabilities we have,” he said. “But we will not be leading the effort to enforce the no-fly zone.”
Despite the administration’s insistence ahead of last week’s Security Council resolution that Arab participation in the military operation was “crucial,” Arab countries have up until now been conspicuously absent in the mission.
On Thursday, UAE foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, announced in a statement issued by the official news agency WAM that his country would be dispatching aircraft shortly.
“The UAE Air Force has committed six F-16 and six Mirage aircraft to participate in the patrols that will enforce the no-fly zone now established over Libya,” he said. “UAE participation in the patrols will commence in the coming days.”
UAE’s small Gulf neighbor, Qatar, has sent two fighter planes to the region and is also expected to begin patrols over Libya at the weekend.
Carney welcomed the UAE announcement Thursday, saying its participation “further underscores the broad, international support for the protection of the Libyan people.”
Apart from the UAE and Qatar, no other country in the 22-member Arab League, including its most powerful members like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have offered to take part.