London to host political meeting on Libya

The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 23, 2011; 6:47 PM

BRUSSELS -- U.S., European, and Arab and African officials have been invited to London next week for political talks about Libya, even as NATO remained deadlocked Wednesday over its role in enforcing a no-fly zone meant to protect Libyan civilians.

France and Britain, in announcing the London talks, appeared to be laying the groundwork for separating the international intervention into military and political sides. The military side could be managed by NATO, while the political side managed by a different group that would include Arab countries and be seen less as Western interventionism.

The U.N. Security Council authorized the no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians after leader Moammar Gadhafi launched attacks against anti-government protesters who wanted him to leave after 42 years in power.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe announced that a "contact group," including the United States, France, Britain and other countries involved in efforts to settle Libya's tensions, will meet in London on Tuesday.

He told French legislators the gathering is aimed at showing that the "political piloting" of the international operation in Libya is not being handled by NATO, but by a broader group of countries. He said the African Union and the Arab League will be invited so a leadership structure can be put in place following initial command by the United States.

"Today we have agreed that this leadership structure would be both NATO and the European Union," Juppe said. "NATO for planning and operational supervision, and the EU for everything related to humanitarian action."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed that a wide group of nations will be invited to the meeting in London.

"It is critical that the international community continues to take united and coordinated action in response to the unfolding crisis," he said. "The meeting will form a contact group of nations to take forward this work."

Italy, meanwhile, which has insisted that NATO have a clear leadership role in running the Libya operation, said Wednesday it was time to "go back to the rules" with a unified chain of command under NATO.

In a speech to parliament, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said it had been necessary to start out with an "urgent" move to stop the slaughter of Libyan civilians by Gadhafi's forces, but that the time had come to "return to the rules with a single chain of command unified under NATO."

Earlier this week, Frattini said Italy would review its decision to let coalition forces use its seven military bases as launch pads for air operations over Libya if NATO didn't take over command.

France's Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro on Wednesday night that while there are no "ego problems" among the U.S., French and British forces involved, "the issue of a political command poses a major problem," hence the need for a contact group.

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