Divisions strain NATO push for Libyan airstrikes

By Don Melvin

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 21 2011 9:45 a.m. MDT

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, addresses the media prior to the start of an EU foreign ministers meeting at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, March 21, 2011.

Yves Logghe, Associated Press

BRUSSELS — Sharp divisions prevented NATO from adopting a plan Monday for military airstrikes against Libya, as Turkish opposition blocked the alliance from approving a strategy. And European unity was further called into question at the European Union Monday, as Germany questioned the wisdom of the operation altogether.

The UN-backed airstrikes mounted so far against Moammar Gadhafi's force by Britain, France and the United States outside of their NATO roles also drew scathing criticism from Russia, a nation with which the alliance would like close strategic cooperation.

"The Security Council resolution is flawed, it allows everything and is reminiscent of a medieval call for a crusade," said Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. "In fact, it allows intervention in a sovereign state."

A day after Turkey declined to support a military plan for the alliance to enforce a Libya no-fly zone, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said support was possible but only if NATO's operation does not turn into an occupation.

"NATO should only enter Libya to determine that Libya belongs to Libyans and not to distribute its natural resources and richness to others," Erdogan said during a visit to Saudi Arabia.

Diplomats said Turkey, a NATO member that sees itself as a bridge between Europe and the Muslim world, was angered by its exclusion from an emergency summit Saturday in Paris organized by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, at which the 22 participants agreed to launch armed action against Gadhafi's military.

France ended up making the first strikes, and the diplomats said Turkey's envoys had warned that NATO's participation in the airstrikes could damage the alliance's standing in the Islamic world at a time when it is heavily engaged in the war in Afghanistan.

The diplomats, who are accredited to NATO, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

NATO's participation in any military action against Libya would require the approval of all 28 NATO members, and Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal denied that his country was grounding NATO.

"Turkey is not blocking NATO, Turkey has been contributing to the preparations with a positive approach since the beginning," Unal told The Associated Press.

The NATO diplomats said the North Atlantic Council, NATO's top decision-making body, would again discuss the no-fly plan when envoys meet in Brussels on Monday afternoon, and might issue an order for alliance forces to implement it.

Even if such an order is adopted, it will require several more days before aircraft under NATO command start flying missions over Libya. The order also is likely to restrict NATO's air forces to making sure there are no unauthorized flights over Libya, with no mention of attacks on ground targets.

The United States, France and Britain initiated attacks on Libya on Saturday, raining cruise missiles and precision bombs on Libyan military targets on the ground, including Gadhafi's residential compound.

Other members of NATO have expressed concerns over whether NATO aircraft and other equipment would have to be diverted from other missions, including the one in Afghanistan, and controversy was still lingering Monday over whether the head of the Arab League was been misquoted as criticizing the operation.

Support from the Arab League was critical to obtaining U.N. approval for international action to protect Libyan civilians. But after the international operation began, the league chief Amr Moussa was quoted as telling reporters in Cairo that it should not have included attacks on Libyan targets on the ground.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Monday that Moussa had been misquoted, but German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle offered the comments as evidence that Germany's decision not to participate in the operation was justified.

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