Britain, France Ramp Up Pressure at EU Crisis Summit on Libya
Western powers ramped up pressure on Moammar Gadhafi Friday, with France calling for targeted strikes if he bombs his people, as a crisis summit exposed an EU rift over how to force the Libyan leader out.
The pivotal summit, capping 48 hours of talks also involving NATO defense ministers and European Union foreign ministers, opened with the 27-nation bloc divided over military action as well as a British-French push for formal recognition of Gadhafi's opponents.
All agreed, however, on the need for the Libyan leader to go.
"It must be made clear: a person waging war on his own people cannot be a partner for talks with the European Union," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "That is why we demand Gadhafi's immediate resignation."
British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy went into the talks urging partners to extend formal recognition to Libya's opposition while working on contingency planning for military action.
"We are going to step up today measures in the European Council (summit) to put pressure on that regime, measures to isolate that regime," Cameron said.
"We should also plan for every eventuality ... This is absolutely vital."
Britain and France have a draft resolution in hand to put to the United Nations Security Council for a no-fly zone over the oil-rich country.
The council however remains split on the issue and even allies Germany and Italy have sounded words of warning.
But surprising EU diplomats, Sarkozy said Paris and London favored targeted strikes in Libya in case Gadhafi bombed his people.
Sarkozy said Paris had "many reservations" on military or NATO intervention in Libya "because Arab revolutions belong to Arabs."
He and Cameron however were "ready, on condition that the U.N. wishes, that the Arab League accepts and that the Libyan opposition, which we hope to see recognized, agrees, for targeted actions if Mr. Gadhafi uses chemical weapons or air power against peaceful citizens".
A European diplomat who requested anonymity, however, said there had never been any question of joint action between Paris and London. "There has been no talk of Franco-British targeted action."
Britain has consistently argued that any military option would require a U.N. imprimatur as well as regional Arab and African support.
Sarkozy also urged his European partners to follow France's lead and officially recognize the Libyan opposition.
France on Thursday extended recognition to the rebels as the country's rightful representatives, sparking surprise among some European nations, including Germany, mindful of being dragged into war.
"Our assessment is Sarkozy is playing to a domestic audience," said another EU diplomat who asked not to be named.
The premier of small but influential Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, slammed Sarkozy for going it alone in recognizing Libya's rebels on the eve of the Brussels talks.
"I believe Europeans would be well advised to take the decisions they need to take at the meeting and not a day before," Juncker said.
The summit is likely to prove contentious as leaders try to map out some common ground -- with new sanctions against Tripoli and pledges of assistance to pro-democracy Arab nations also on the table.
"Colonel Gadhafi must relinquish power immediately," the EU leaders will say at the talks, according to the latest draft of summit conclusions obtained by Agence France Presse.
The draft also calls for planning with NATO allies for a possible no-fly zone -- an issue expected to throw up another bone of contention at the talks.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged caution. "A no-fly zone is not like putting up a traffic sign, it is an attack with bombs, with rockets, with weapons."
"What would we do when it doesn't work? Would we then go in with ground troops? I am very skeptical about this," he said as the summit started.
At two-day NATO defense ministers' talks that began Thursday, the alliance agreed to send more ships towards Libya's coast but delayed any decision on a no-fly zone, saying clear U.N. approval for military action was needed first.
"There is no rush to move forward without the U.N.," the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told a group of reporters as the bloc tightened the screws on Gadhafi with a batch of new sanctions targeting key Tripoli firms.
On military as well as on political options towards Libya and the Arab world at large, Europe needed to move in concert with the region, notably the Arab League which meets in Cairo this weekend, she said.
"We have to work closely with the region in our approach," said Ashton who will be flying to Cairo on Sunday to debrief Arab League leader Amr Moussa.
"The Arab world has to lead."