Supporters call for Libya no-fly vote
The Associated Press
Published Thursday, March 17, 2011 12:27PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 4:13AM EDT
UNITED NATIONS - Supporters of a no-fly zone over Libya called for a vote Thursday on a UN resolution aimed at preventing Moammar Gadhafi's planes from carrying out aerial attacks.
The United States, meanwhile, in a striking reversal, pushed for broader action to protect civilians from ground and sea attacks as well.
The draft resolution would "establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians," according to the latest text obtained by The Associated Press. It also would authorize UN member states "to take all necessary measures ... to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding an occupation force."
Shortly before noon EDT (1700 GMT), Security Council ambassadors started another round of closed-door consultations on the text of the resolution, which was sent to capitals of the 15 council nations overnight for comments.
Britain's UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters as he headed into the Security Council that "we certainly hope to be in a position to vote on the text in the course of today."
The United States has joined Britain, France and Lebanon in pressing for speedy approval as Gadhafi's forces intensified attacks trying to rout the opposition from strongholds in eastern Libya, including Benghazi, the country's second-largest city. Lebanon, the only Arab nation on the council, introduced the resolution.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe was flying to New York Thursday to press the case for speedy Security Council approval.
But Russia and China, which have veto power, have expressed doubts about the United Nations and other outside powers using force against Gadhafi, and diplomats said other council nations reacted cautiously including Germany, India, Brazil and South Africa.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the Obama administration is "fully focused on the urgency and the gravity" of the situation in Libya.
"We are interested in a broad range of actions that will effectively protect civilians and increase the pressure on the Gadhafi regime to halt the killing and to allow the Libyan people to express themselves in their aspirations for the future freely and peacefully," Rice told reporters after more than eight hours of closed-door talks Wednesday by Security Council ambassadors. "Those include discussion of a no-fly zone, but the U.S. view is that ... a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk."
According to a council diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were private, Rice said the goal should be expanded from creating a no-fly zone to protecting civilians, meaning the international community must have all the tools it needs including authorization to use planes, troops or ships to stop attacks by Gadhafi's air, land and sea forces.
U.S. President Barack Obama and his top national security aides had been cautious with calls for a no-fly zone, which the Pentagon described as a step tantamount to war. The U.S. fears involvement in Libya could further strain its already stretched military and entangle the country in an expensive and messy conflict in another Muslim country.
According to the diplomat, Rice said the U.S. will not act without Security Council authorization, does not want to put U.S. ground troops into Libya, and insists on broad international participation, especially by Arab states.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, traveling in the Mideast, said the turning point was the Arab League's support over the weekend for a no-fly zone over Libya, which she called "an extraordinary statement."
She told reporters in Tunisia on Thursday that a UN no-fly zone over Libya would require action to protect the planes and pilots, "including bombing targets like the Libyan defense systems."
The initial draft resolution circulated Tuesday would establish a ban on all flights in Libyan airspace and authorize UN member states "to take all necessary measures" to protect civilians.
An amendment proposed by the United States and obtained by The Associated Press went further. It would have authorize states "to protect civilians and civilian objects from the Gadhafi regime, including by halting attacks by air, land and sea forces under the control of the Gadhafi regime."
That language was not included in the latest draft, but the text still authorizes "all necessary measures" to protect civilians, which the diplomat said the U.S. sees as crucial.
The council diplomat said Rice told the ambassadors the Obama administration believes there is a significant risk of major atrocities by Gadhafi's forces in Benghazi and wants the council to do everything possible to prevent that and protect civilians.
Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said Thursday that even as Gadhafi's forces advanced, there would be no talks with his regime. He called the situation on the ground "extremely worrying."
Asked what the EU would do if Gadhafi's forces retook Benghazi, Mann said, "We have always said all along that we are planning for all options."
He also said the EU was looking to the UN Security Council before making further decisions.
Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, whose government had expressed misgivings about a no-fly zone, proposed that the council vote first on a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Libya.
Rice told reporters a majority of council members did not support a separate cease-fire resolution but said that a call for a cease-fire could be incorporated in the no-fly resolution.
France and Britain failed to win support for a no-fly zone during a two-day meeting of Group of Eight foreign ministers in Paris earlier Tuesday and the G-8's final communique did not mention a flight ban, leaving any action to the Security Council.
The Security Council on Feb. 26 imposed an arms embargo on Libya and ordered all countries to freeze assets and ban travel for Gadhafi and some close associates. It also referred the regime's deadly crackdown on protesters to the International Criminal Court, for an investigation of possible crimes against humanity.