SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 14, 2011

NATO ministers: No Gadhafi in Libya's future

GEIR MOULSON andMATTHEW LEE
Associated Press

BERLIN — NATO nations stressed their common goals in Libya — bringing an end to Moammar Gadhafi's regime — instead of their differences Thursday as ministers met amid a rift over the scope of NATO's military operation in Libya.

The effort to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya tops the foreign ministers' agenda at the two-day meeting, which also will address efforts to hand over security responsibility in Afghanistan to local forces.

Three weeks of airstrikes haven't routed Gadhafi's forces, and France has said NATO isn't doing enough.

British and French officials also said Washington's military strength is needed to ensure the mission's success, but the Obama administration insists the U.S. will stick to its plan to remain in a supporting role. The Pentagon also noted Wednesday that Americans have flown 35 percent of all air missions over the last 10 days.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stressed that alliance members are "sharing the same goal, which is to see the end of the Gadhafi regime in Libya."

"We are contributing in many ways to see that goal realized," she said Thursday after meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, whose country isn't taking part in the military operation and abstained in the U.N. vote authorizing it.

Opening the conference, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance and its partners "are fully engaged in operations to safeguard the people of Libya, taking every measure possible to prevent Gadhafi's brutal and systematic attacks on his own people."

The NATO-led operation is keeping up "a high operational tempo," he added.

France's foreign minister, Alain Juppe, struck a diplomatic tone as he met with his German counterpart, seeking to downplay differences and stressing the importance of an eventual "political solution."

"In reality, we have the same objective — this objective is to allow the Libyan people to enjoy democratic freedom," Juppe said, adding "there will not be a military solution to the problem, there can only be a political solution."

"There is no future in Libya with Gadhafi," Juppe added.

Juppe said outsiders can support political forces that aspire to democracy, but he was guarded when asked whether France believes Libyan rebels should be supplied with arms.

"France is not in this frame of mind," he replied.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Berlin agrees with France and others that "Libya can only have a good future if this dictator goes."

He said he was "very happy that we have together succeeded in finally pushing through a comprehensive sanctions policy — there is now a de-facto oil and gas embargo (so) that the dictator Gadhafi's cash reserves cannot be replenished."

U.S. officials said Clinton would use Thursday's meetings to press allies to reaffirm their goal of protecting civilians as rebels and forces loyal to Gadhafi continue fighting.

The officials said Clinton would stress the importance of using NATO military assets to go after pro-Gadhafi fighters attacking or approaching rebel-held positions and stepping up economic and political pressure on Gadhafi to leave power.

The foreign ministers of the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Italy — a group known as the Quint — plan to meet on the sidelines in Berlin with a focus on Libya, U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the plans.

The meeting is aimed at getting the European nations, especially Germany, to boost pressure on Gadhafi to leave, the U.S. officials said.

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David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.