Attempts to paper over NATO crisis on Libya fail to conceal key differences

NATO foreign ministers are desperately trying to present a united front on Libya. But the differences are too great to conceal

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Please may I have some more planes for Libya?
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The Commentator
On 14 April 2011 11:15

NATO foreign ministers met in Berlin on Thursday to try and bring greater coherence to an operation in Libya which has opened up glaring divisions between key members of the alliance.

Germany and Turkey oppose the military action altogether while France and Britain are hoping that the NATO meeting will galvanise member states to step up their efforts and devote more resources to the operation.

With NATO now formally leading the operation in Libya, some analysts say it is rapidly becoming as divisive an issue as the war in Afghanistan over which the United States and Britain in particular accuse many NATO members of failing to pull their weight.

On Thursday, attempts to paper over differences on Libya only served to emphasise how implacable the opposing sides remain in sticking to their positions.

"On the question of Libya, there is basically one core difference, and that is about the path to a common aim,” said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

"Germany decided not to take part in a combat operation in Libya, but this does not mean we are neutral. Just like France and the international community, we believe that Libya can only have a good future if this dictator goes," he added.

France’s foreign minister, Alain Juppe, was also at pains to play down the differences:

"The divergences lie in the means of achieving this objective. We think that a military intervention was necessary ... We disagreed on this but at no point was trust or dialogue broken."

But diplomats said that behind the scenes there was deep dismay at Germany’s refusal to fall into line, and that efforts to portray the differences as inconsequential were unconvincing.

With only seven, out of 28, NATO member states conducting airstrikes in Libya the differences go much wider than the concerns over Germany.

For example, Spain is involved in policing the no fly zone, but it refuses to join in with airstrikes, a policy that was reiterated on Thursday by the country’s foreign minister Trinidad Jimenez.

Italy is allowing other countries to fly bombing missions from its territory, but won’t send planes of its own.

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton pledged America’s continued support to seeing the mission through in Libya until Colonel Gaddafi is removed from power. But critics argue that President Obama looks decidedly unenthusiastic about the operation.

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