Opposition to Libya assault grows as allies battle to protect united front

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Serious fractures emerged in the international community yesterday over the military intervention in Libya, with some nations asking such basic questions as what the end-game is and how long it will take.

Just days after forsaking its chance to veto the United Nations resolution that authorised the air strikes, Russia offered the most jarring commentary, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin saying: "The resolution is flawed. It allows everything and is reminiscent of a medieval call for a crusade. In fact, it allows intervention in a sovereign state."

Germany, which like Russia abstained at last week's UN Security Council meeting, also repeated its misgivings about the operation. And via a state newspaper, the Chinesegovernment condemned what it called "armed action against a sovereign country" and expressed its regret that "the West will not give up their jurisdiction over justice and injustice".

Even Britain, France and the US, which together have conducted the raids aimed at destroying much of Libya's air-defence capability and neutralising Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's military advantages, manoeuvred to manage diplomatic and domestic political fall-out from the still nascent operation.

Rising quickly to the top of a long list of concerns was the chance that, with most of the heavy bombardment over, the coalition may find itself drifting into a prolonged stalemate in Libya with no real change in the balance between the rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces. Asked when operations would be over, a senior French military adviser replied that it might be "a while".

Meanwhile, international co-ordination on the aim of the campaign has been called into question by emerging splits within the British and US command structures on Colonel Gaddafi's legitimacy as a target. After the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, asserted that killing the Libyan leader was a "possibility", the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, refused yesterday to rule out the option. But a chorus of US voices dismissed that prospect out of hand. Dr Fox's US counterpart, Robert Gates, said it was "unwise to set as specific goals, things that you may or may not be able to achieve".

Meanwhile, David Cameron made a series of telephone calls in an attempt to prevent further fractures in the coalition. Among those that the Prime Minister spoke to was Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the 22-nation Arab League, who on Sunday suggested that the West had gone too far in enforcing UN Resolution 1973.

After their conversation, a Downing Street spokesman said that both men "were on the same page". Mr Moussa also sought to smooth over the controversy, saying: "We respect the Security Council's resolution and we have no conflict with the resolution."

Mr Cameron also spoke to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince, General Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Privately, ministers admit that while they had thought about the potential diplomatic fallout from concerted military action, there had been no time to "think through" all the eventualities. There are still unanswered questions about the command structure and whether this will turn into a Nato operation or remain an ad hoc coalition. Last night, the Italian government warned that it would review the use of its bases by coalition forces for air strikes against Libya unless the mission passed to Nato's command.

Such difficulties are a reflection of the haste with which operations got under way at the weekend. The UN vote was rushed through with unusual speed because of fears that the last stronghold of the rebels, Benghazi, was within days or even hours of falling.

In Washington, the Pentagon emphasised that the pounding of targets in Libya had already grounded Colonel Gaddafi's air force. But US officials were at pains to stress that they wanted to hand the lead in the operation to others – for example, Britain and France – as soon as possible. Mr Gates said he expected to see such a transfer within "days".

Earlier in the day, President Barack Obama said the US would turn over leadership of the military operation to other, unnamed countries within a "matter of days, not weeks", adding that removing Gaddafi was not the military's mission. Instead, he proposed a combination of measures including sanctions, adding that the UN Security Council resolution did not include regime change. His comments reflect a US desire to have others be seen to lead the UN-mandated campaign.

Clarifying the role of Nato was also proving difficult. Attempts by senior alliance officials in Brussels to finalise a blueprint for the action going forward were being held back by Turkey, which has expressed anxiety about the risks of civilian casualties in Libya.

In Paris, Mr Sarkozy, a leading proponent of military action last week, took steps to avert a backlash in the Arab world and in France. Sources said he was working to try to ensure that a promised Arab, probably Qatari, contribution to the coalition would actually arrive in the skies over Libya. France hopes that at least four Qatari aircraft will fly to a base in southern Corsica or Crete in the next day or so.

Reports that Turkey was blocking Nato's direct involvement were denied last night by the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. "Turkey is not blocking Nato," he insisted. "Turkey has been contributing to the preparations with a positive approach since the beginning."

Germany's Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, defended the ongoing reticence of his government. "This does not mean we have any sympathy with the dictator Gaddafi," he said. "It means that we see the risks, and when we listen closely to what the Arab League yesterday said."

Inside the Disunited Nations...

Arab League

What they said: The League's head Amr Moussa, caused ripples on Sunday when he condemned the air strikes on Libya, saying: "What we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians."

What's the impact: His comments were the first sign of splits in the coalition, and undermined Western assurances that the action on a Muslim nation had Arab backing.

What's are the motives? Arab leaders are walking a diplomatic tightrope over Libya, with many League members facing their own protests and keen to keep the international community on-side. But the mostly Muslim nations also have to consider domestic opinion, which has previously been vehemently against the military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

China

What they said: The Chinese government has expressed "regret" at the air assault, and state media compared the military strikes on Libya with action in Iraq and Afghanistan, calling it "armed action against sovereign countries".

What's the impact: Practically, not much, as it chose not to use its veto when the UN Security Council voted last week. However, as an emerging world power, developing nations look to China as an alternative voice to the West.

What's are the motives? China has a long history of staying out of what it says are other countries' internal affairs, in the hope that the nations will repay the favour when China comes under fire for its repressive political system and human rights abuses. It also relies heavily on the Middle East for oil, and has to balance its economic interests.

Russia

What they said: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was scathing yesterday, calling the UN resolution "defective and flawed", adding that it "resembles medieval calls for crusades".

What's the impact: Like China, Russia also opted not to wield its veto at the UN, but Mr Putin's harsh comments come as Barack Obama tries to improve ties with Moscow.

What's are the motives? Mr Putin said the action showed Russia is right to boost its defence capabilities, and indeed military posturing is a large factor, with Mr Putin also keeping an eye on a presidential poll. Russia also tends to avoid getting entangled in other nations' affairs.

Turkey

What they said: Prime Minister Recep Erdogan said UN action must not turn into an occupation and Nato "should only enter Libya to determine that Libya belongs to Libyans and not to distribute its natural resources and richness to others".

What's the impact: Turkey is so far opposing a Nato military strategy that would allow the alliance's participation and possible lead in the intervention, throwing the operation into turmoil as European nations urged a united front.

What's are the motives? Some diplomats claim Turkey was angered by its exclusion from an emergency summit to discuss the crisis in Libya, and there have been protests in Ankara, right. Turkey is the only predominantly Muslim Nato member, thus its support is crucial to the alliance, keen not to alienate the Islamic world.

Germany

What they said: Germany argued at the UN that the no-fly zone carried risks – Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has told parliament that "any military operation brings civilian victims".

What's the impact: Germany abstained at the UN Security Council, but its decision not to take an active role has more domestic impact, with some analysts saying it has isolated itself from Nato allies, France and Britain.

What's are the motives? German public opinion is firmly against military intervention of any kind, and with crucial state elections this year, commentators have suggested Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, is looking to boost her popularity. The country is also bogged down in the war in Afghanistan, which is deeply unpopular at home.

United States

What they said: "Our consensus was strong and our resolve is clear," Barack Obama has said. "In the absence of an immediate end to the violence against civilians, our coalition is prepared to act and act with urgency."

What's the impact: There was little appetite on Capitol Hill initially for another military intervention and caution over the no-fly zone, so there was relief from Britain and France when the US finally put their weight behind the operation.

What's are the motives? Washington was determined not to be caught on the wrong side of history, watching as a dictator unleashed violence against his people, but the US has taken a back seat in the diplomacy, keen not to be seen as pushing "regime change" which battered its standing in the Muslim world after Iraq and Afghanistan.

France

What they said: "It's a grave decision we've had to take," President Nicolas Sarkozy said at the weekend. "Along with our Arab, European and North American partners, France has decided to play its part before history."

What's the impact: France opposed military action in Iraq, and for Britain and the US, their involvement has helped boost the operation's credentials as a global push rather than unilateral action.

What's are the motives? President Nicolas Sarkozy's enthusiasm is partly domestic. He is floundering in the opinion polls before the presidential election next year, and was much criticised at home for France's early stumbling response to the pro-democracy revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Libya has been a perfect opportunity for Mr Sarkozy to appear pro-active, energetic and statesmanlike.

Britain

What they said: "He continues to brutalise his own people and so the time for action has come," David Cameron has said. "We have to enforce the will of the United Nations and we cannot allow the slaughter of civilians to continue."

What's the impact: Britain and France were the two nations spearheading the diplomatic push for a no-fly zone and strong action against Colonel Gaddafi and their armed forces are leading the operation, although the US is playing a key role in the military strategy.

What's are the motives? Britain, like the United States, has been bruised by the Iraq war, while the current government has also suffered from revelations of the links between the establishment and the Gaddafi regime, as well as arms sales to Arab nations that are meting out heavy punishment on protesters, including Bahrain.

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