Defence

  • Sarkozy said the war in Libya was 'politically and morally just' (Photo: elysee.fr)

France: Libya war marks new chapter in EU-US relations

01.09.11 @ 10:08

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

The EU will in future play a bigger role vis-a-vis the US in providing hard security in north Africa and the Middle East, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said.

Speaking to French ambassadors gathered in Paris on Wednesday (31 August), the French leader said the war in Libya is a "lesson" for EU foreign policy: "Europeans have shown for the first time that they are capable of intervention in a decisive way, with their allies, in an open conflict on their doorstep."

He added that the Libya model - in which France and the UK took the lead with American support - marks a new division of labour between the EU and US: "The world is changing. [US] President Obama has presented a new vision of American military engagement which involves the Europeans assuming their responsibilities."

Sarkozy noted the union should also play a bigger role in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"The role of the US [in the Middle East peace process] is incontrovertible and irreplacable, but everyone can see it is not sufficient. It is necessary to enlarge the circle of negotiators ... We must keep in mind that the European Union is the top economic partner of Israel and the top aid donor to the Palestinians."

On Syria, he added that the EU will do "everything legally possible" to help topple President Bashar Assad, while underlining that any European involvement in "morally and politically just" conflicts must have a UN mandate.

Sarkozy spoke on the eve of a summit in Paris on Thursday of the so-called Libya Contact Group.

The meeting will bring together 60 high-level delegations from Western and Arab countries that supported the Nato strikes on Colonel Gaddafi, as well as anti-interventionists China and Russia and senior officials from the African Union, the Arab League, the EU, Nato and the UN.

In a reflection of Sarkozy's new-model EU-US relations, the meeting will be dominated by France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, which are sending their leaders. The US will be represented by secretary of state Hilary Clinton, while China and Russia are sending third- and fourth-tier diplomats.

Thursday's summit is to symbolise the end of Gaddafi's rule, which began with a military coup also on 1 September 42 years ago.

Delegates will also listen to Libyan rebel leaders - the Transition National Council (TNC) - outline their future needs in terms of finance and a potential UN-led peacekeeping mission.

The UN is step-by-step unfreezing tens of billions of euros' worth of Gaddafi assets around the world. It has also put together plans to quickly send in 390 unarmed military observers and policemen to help keep the peace. Its Libya troubleshooter, UN official Ian Martin, has spoken with two unspecified UN countries about leading a potential "multinational force" in the country. But the TNC has indicated it does not want foreign soldiers for now.

Sarkozy and US officials in their remarks on Wednesday underlined that the Libyan people will play the lead in shaping the new country.

But with French construction firms and Italian energy companies already sending high-level missions to Libya to scoop up contracts, Asian and Islamic powers have voiced concerns about Western intentions.

A US secretary of state spokesman noted on Wednesday that Libya is a "rich country. Yeah, I mean, there are assets that we - that the international community is beginning to try to tap into."

For its part, the People's Daily, a Chinese government newspaper in a prickly op-ed published the same day said: "The West has never given up its scheme of dominating the development directions of west Asia and north Africa. The dominance is connected with economic interests, naturally. Though the smoke of gunpowder has not fully dispersed in Libya, Western oil companies' fights for the oil have already started."

US nemesis Iran has also started talks with the TNC on future relations.

"If ... arrogant powers and international Zionism, including the tyrannical US regime, succeed to ride the waves [of the Arab Spring] and take the lead, the Muslim world will be faced with big problems for tens of years,” Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei said in a rare public statement ahead of the Paris summit.