1st Dec 2022

Committee of foreign ministers set to run Libya campaign

  • Nato meeting room: talks in Brussels have reportedly seen tempers frayed and walkouts over the past two days (Photo: Nato)

Nato ambassadors are to vote on Wednesday (23 March) on a hybrid command structure for Libya that could see the alliance run day-to-day military operations while an ad hoc committee of foreign ministers makes political decisions.

The complex set-up was agreed in telephone diplomacy between the White House, the Elysee and Downing Street on Tuesday following two days of fractious talks by Nato diplomats in Brussels.

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Speaking to press on a trip to Latin America, US President Barack Obama said: "I have absolutely no doubt that we will be able to transfer control of this operation to an international coalition ... I would expect that over the next several days you will have clarity and a meeting of the minds of all those who are participating in the process."

In an address to the French parliament the same day, French foreign minister Alain Juppe said: "At the president's behest, I've proposed the agreement of our British colleagues that we set up a political structure to guide operations, involving foreign ministers from countries that are taking part and from the Arab League."

For his part, Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen noted there is already agreement on the alliance's role in policing a maritime arms embargo on Colonel Gaddafi.

"Our top operational commander, Admiral Stavridis, is activating Nato ships and aircraft in the central Mediterranean," he explained. "Nato has completed plans to help enforce the no-fly zone - to bring our contribution, if needed, in a clearly defined manner, to the broad international effort to protect the people of Libya."

Under the proposed British-French-US deal, the Nato command centre in Mons, Belgium, would make military decisions on the maritime and no-fly blockades while the new committee would have overall political control.

Juppe said the committee would hold its first meeting in either Brussels, London or Paris this week.

If all 22 Arab League members (21 not counting Libya) as well as Canada, Norway, the US and the six EU countries (Denmark, Italy, France, Romania, Spain and the UK) taking part in the military campaign get a seat at the table, the committee would number over 30 people. If only the Arab League countries taking part in the campaign so far, Qatar and the UAE, take part, it would number 11.

Nato members France, Germany and Turkey have opposed handover of command to Nato's political body, the North Atlantic Council.

France earlier said that Arab countries do not want to see the Nato flag in the Maghreb following Afghanistan and Iraq.

Turkish leader Recep Tayip Erdogan has pledged to support Nato humanitarian operations. But he told his AKP party in Ankara on Tuesday that: "Turkey will never, never be the side pointing weapons at the Libyan people ... These kinds of operation brought no benefit in the past. They led to loss of life and turned into an occupation."

Germany, which has flip-flopped on its support for the no-fly zone, on Tuesday said it would take back control of two frigates and over 600 German soldiers under the Nato flag in the Mediterranean in case they were ordered to fire on Gaddafi forces.

The difficulties of co-ordinating the Libya action amid the political divisions were clear in Cyprus on Tuesday.

Cyprus, which opposes the campaign, first declined permission for three Qatari planes to use its Larnaca airport to refuel on the way to Libya. It later granted permission on the basis of international aviation law when the planes said they had to make an emergency landing because they were running out of petrol.

A statement by a retired UAE air chief also highlighted the geo-political complexities of the anti-Gaddafi coalition.

Speaking at a security seminar in the emirates on Tuesday, general Khaled al Bu-Ainnain said the UAE had originally planned to send 24 fighter jets to enforce the no-fly zone. But it will now limit itself to humanitarian support in revenge for Western powers failing to back the UAE line that unrest in Bahrain is down to Iran.

"The GCC [Gulf Co-operation Council] is supporting Bahrain, and they were not happy at all with the European and American attitude ... They think it's a matter of a civil movement, a matter of democracy. It is much beyond it," he said, according to local media.

"What's going on in Bahrain is beyond the understanding of our Western allies. It is a complete conspiracy of the Iranians."

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