Turkish TV: NATO to command Libya operation

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 24, 2011; 3:09 PM

ANKARA, Turkey -- NATO appeared on Thursday to move closer to assuming command of the military operation in Libya when Turkey's foreign minister was quoted as saying an agreement has been reached.

The alliance needs the approval of all 28 of its members in order to coordinate the operation, and Turkey had set conditions on that role for NATO.

"The coalition that was formed following the Paris meeting will abandon the mission and hand it over entirely to a single command system under NATO," Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quoted as saying by Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency.

"All of Turkey's concerns, demands on the issue have been met," he said, and NATO has promised to complete the work needed to take over the Libya mission "within one or two days."

Earlier in the day, Turkey's parliament authorized the government to participate in military operations in Libya, including the no-fly zone. Turkey is NATO's only Muslim member.

Turkey's government had insisted that any NATO mission, including the no-fly zone, must be restricted to protecting civilians, enforcing the arms embargo and providing humanitarian aid.

Davutoglu had said Wednesday that his country would not agree to a "framework that goes beyond this." But Turkey also said it would contribute four frigates and one submarine to the NATO naval force that patrolling off Libya's coast to enforce a U.N. arms embargo. Two frigates had reached the Libyan coast while two others were on their way.

In Brussels, NATO officials said the Military Committee - the alliance's highest military body - met Thursday morning in Brussels to review plans to enforce the no-fly zone in Libya. The decision-making North Atlantic Council, consisting of envoys from all 28 member nations, was meeting later Thursday to review them.

It has been meeting for six straight days, but a series of disagreements, including whether NATO should have overall political control over the operation and how aggressive rules of engagement should be, have so far blocked an agreement.

Separately, the 27 European Union heads of government began a two-day summit meeting, also in Brussels. Economic matters appear to be dominating the agenda, but Libya may also be discussed.

Thursday's vote in Turkey's Parliament authorizes the government and military to participate in operations in Libya up to one year, without specifying what kind.

NATO's top military commander, U.S. Adm. James Stavridis, met Turkish military leaders in Ankara on Thursday to discuss Turkey's concerns.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced concern over the campaign and accused Western nations of having what he claimed designs on Libya's oil. He did not name any country. "I wish they would look at Libya with a conscientious eye instead of an eye for oil," he said.

Erdogan also spoke of the possibility of sending peacekeepers to Libya but insisted the Turkish soldiers would not aim guns at fellow Muslims.

"Turkish planes, Turkish soldiers will never be the ones firing bullets and dropping bombs on our brothers in Libya," Erdogan said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on Thursday sought to debunk speculation that the allies were after oil-rich Libya's hydrocarbons.

"People always say that it's oil behind all this - that's not true," Juppe said. "To have consistent, cheap oil, the best thing would have been to change nothing in Libya. It's not oil that pushes us to all this."

Turkey, however, has good ties both with the West and the Muslim world and its warnings reflects concerns by many Muslim countries around the Middle East.

Erdogan also insisted that the entire Libya operation be handled by NATO alone.

The Parliament gave blanket permission to the government to decide on the scope, duration or size of any Turkish military mission for one year. Erdogan's government said it aims for a "multidimensional contribution to international efforts to restore stability and security in Libya."

Ahead of the approval of the mission, hundreds of people, including members of left-wing political parties, protested against the deployment outside the Parliament as well as the U.S. Embassy, where protesters chanted slogans against NATO and Stavridis' visit.

Turkey often said it could serve as a bridge between the West and the Islamic world. Today, its embassy in Tripoli serves as an intermediary for the United States, Britain, Italy and Australia. It has also helped secure the release of five journalists working for the New York Times and Britain's Guardian newspaper.

The seeds of Turkey's friendly ties with Libya was laid during a U.S. arms embargo following Turkey's invasion of Cyprus in 1974, when Libya provided Turkey with spare parts to operate its U.S.-made jets. Since then, Turkish builders have become a mainstay of foreign business in Libya, from where 25,000 Turkish workers have been evacuated amid the chaos.

© 2011 The Associated Press