French and British efforts to build support for a no-fly zone over Libya have failed to win the backing of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrial countries who met in Paris.
Ministers at the meeting agreed that more action within the UN Security Council is needed to pressure Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi — possibly through increased sanctions, but not through military action.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters afterward that Berlin was “very skeptical” about any military intervention — including the imposition of a no-fly zone.
“We all feel solidarity with those who fight against Colonel Qaddafi. But on the other hand, we have to see that a military intervention is not the solution,” Westerwelle said. “It’s not an easy way and it’s not an easy solution. From our point of view, it is very difficult and dangerous.”
Westerville also said Germany “does not want to get sucked into a war in North Africa,” and wanted “to avoid any slippery slope” in which all countries in the G8 eventually are drawn into such a war.
Today’s diplomatic developments come as pro-Qaddafi troops recaptured the western town of Zwara to the west of the capital, Tripoli, today — one of the first towns the opposition seized during last month’s uprising.
That victory at Zwara solidifies Qaddafi’s hold on a stretch of coastline from Tripoli to the Tunisian border.
And to the east, Qaddafi’s warplanes heavily bombarded the city of Ajdabiyah — forcing opposition fighters to abandon their strategic positions there.
Ajdabiyah sits on road junction from where Qaddafi’s forces could attempt to advance eastward on the opposition stronghold of Benghazi further to the east. From that road junction, Libyan government forces also could attempt to encircle Benghazi.
But the further the regime’s troops advance east, the more difficult it’s getting for Qaddafi to supply them with food, fuel, and ammunition, says Jeffery White, a defense analyst at the Washington Institute For Near East Policy.
“Qaddafi has some momentum at the moment, although it remains to be seen if he can sustain it. He has done some, I think, fairly tough fighting with his forces. But the real challenges are still ahead for them,” White tells RFE/RL.
“He hasn’t done much in the Misurata area [an opposition-held city east of Tripoli]. There were a few attempts to break into the city, but those were stopped by the rebels. In eastern Libya, he’s now beginning to push his forces further and further to the east — which means it is going to be more and more difficult to sustain them. And it should be getting a little bit easier for the rebels to hold and defend those areas in the east.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not attend today’s G8 meeting. Instead, she was traveling on the next leg of her diplomatic mission on the crises in North Africa and the Middle East. Clinton is scheduled to travel to Tunis after her stop in Egypt.
Clinton did meet late on March 14 in Paris with a leading Libyan opposition envoy who is trying to garner international support for forces opposed to Qaddafi.
But neither Clinton nor the envoy, Mahmud Jibril of Libya’s opposition Transitional National Council, made any comment to journalists after their talks at a luxury hotel in the French capital.
Clinton’s aide Philippe Reines told reporters that the 45 minutes of talks were “private and candid.” Clinton also met in Paris the same day with other G8 foreign ministers to discuss the proposed UN Security Council no-fly zone resolution that Britain and France have drafted.
Under that proposed no-fly zone, U.S. and NATO warplanes would ground Qaddafi’s air force in order to protect civilians and the opposition from air strikes. But the proposal would likely need hundreds of planes to patrol the skies over Libya’s vast territory.
The UN Security Council is divided over the proposal, with permanent veto-wielding member Russia insisting that “fundamental questions” remain over the action. Veto-wielding China also is opposed to the resolution, while the United States and Germany have expressed doubts.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said today that he had not been able to convince all the other G8 countries about the need to impose a no-fly zone.
“What is the situation today? Qaddafi is scoring points,” Juppe said. “If we had used military force last week to neutralize a number of airfields and the few dozens of planes that they have, possibly the turnaround that is happening to the detriment of the opposition might not be taking place.”
In the absence of force, Juppe said, the international community probably would be unable to stop Qaddafi loyalists from retaking the opposition stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya.
Juppe suggested G8 ministers should also examine other ways — such as a maritime embargo — to pressure Qaddafi’s regime over the killing of civilians that already has led to an international investigation into allegations of crimes against humanity.
Canada’s Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said late on March 14 that all options should be left open for action against Qaddafi’s regime, including a possible no-fly zone.
Cannon said that at the very least, he was pushing to ensure that existing sanctions against Qaddafi and his inner circle are enforced.
“We are seeing and witnessing a Qaddafi that is the Lockerbie Qaddafi,” Cannon added, referring to the bombing of a U.S. airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people in 1988.
“This is the same individual who the world had condemned, and quite clearly one of the things I will be pushing for tomorrow is to be able to make sure that the sanctions that were there at the time, we should all invest again in putting those sanctions in place,” he said.
Arab League chief Amr Musa has asked the UN to impose the flight ban, saying its only purpose would be to protect Libyan civilians from air strikes by Qaddafi’s military. But the Arab League says there should not be foreign troops deployed to Libya.
Musa and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, met on March 14 and called for the no-fly zone proposal to be discussed at a tripartite summit of the EU, the Arab League, and the African Union. A date for that gathering has not been announced.