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Allies Agree On Role For NATO In Libya, Qaddafi Predicts Victory

March 22, 2011

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. President Barack Obama have agreed on a plan for how NATO's command structure can support the international military campaign to protect civilians against the forces of Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi.

A statement from Sarkozy's office said the two men "have come to an agreement on the way to use the command structures of NATO to support the coalition." It did not provide specifics.

The agreement came on a day of fast moving developments surrounding NATO's role in the military campaign, which so far has been run by a small coalition of countries led by the United States and is now in its fourth day.

A United Nations Security Council resolution, approved last week, allows "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians from attacks by Qaddafi's troops.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced earlier in the day that the bloc had agreed today to enforce a UN arms embargo on Libya, before the White House said that Obama had persuaded France and Britain of the need for NATO to play a key role in the air campaign, as well.

Late today state television broadcast images of Qaddafi appearing in Tripoli before a small crowd of supporters and vowing, "We will be victorious in the end."

Coalition Actions Questioned

Earlier, Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim, complained that the operation has expanded outside of the UN mandate.

"Now we are seeing the coalition forces, they are part of the war now against the legitimate government," he said. "I think they are working now outside the mandate of the United Nations. They are helping one party against the other, which is illegal, illegitimate, and also it's the failure of the coalition to abide by the mandate given by the United Nations."

The agreement on NATO's role represents a victory for the White House, which is eager to keep U.S. involvement in the operation to a minimum. On Monday Obama said Washington will relinquish its lead role in a "matter of days, not weeks."

Pentagon officials have signaled that the U.S. military's role will lessen in coming days as other countries take on more responsibility and the need declines for large-scale offensive action. Late today, a senior administration official told Reuters that Arab countries will soon assume a larger role in the operation.

But Turkey opposes a lead role for NATO -- a position Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan repeated today. In a speech in Ankara, he said the UN should head a solely humanitarian operation.

"We are making efforts to make sure that the change in Libya takes place without more casualties," he said. "We tried to prevent chaos and fratricide. We want Libya to resolve its internal matters without foreign intervention. The change in Libya should be brought by Libya's internal dynamics."

Meanwhile, the level of criticism over coalition air strikes has increased. China, Brazil, and Russia have called for a cease-fire, with Beijing warning that the use of force in Libya "could result in more civilian casualties and a humanitarian crisis."

All three countries, in addition to India and Germany, abstained from the UN vote on the resolution.

In Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told his U.S. counterpart, Robert Gates that Russia wants to see an immediate cease-fire and the start of political negotiations.

"Recent events have shown that real combat operations have already begun in [Libya], in which civilian installations have been affected and peaceful civilians have been killed," he said. "That should not have been allowed to happen and we made our position clear to our U.S. colleagues."

Gates countered that Qaddafi's claims about civilian casualties are "outright lies." He said the actions of the coalition were "completely consistent with the UN Security Council resolution" that calls for the imposition of a no-fly zone to protect civilians.

Fighting Rages On

The developments came as Qaddafi's forces intensified their attacks on cities in the no-fly zone, including the coastal city of Misrata, where residents told the Associated Press that government snipers and tanks were terrorizing civilians.

Reports say conditions for residents of the country's third-largest city, and the last major stronghold of the opposition forces in the west, have sharply deteriorated after weeks of being under siege by government forces.

Casualties figures included four children, who died when their car was hit. The death toll over the past 24 hours is said to have reached 40.

In a telephone briefing for reporters conducted from his command post on an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean, U.S. Navy Admiral Samuel Locklear said intelligence reports have confirmed those reports and said the international coalition was "considering all options" there.

with agency reports


Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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