A European Union crisis summit on Libya has opened in Brussels, the Belgian capital, with countries divided over a British-French push to prepare for military action and formal recognition of the opposition seeking to oust Muammar Gaddafi.
David Cameron, the British prime minister, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, are urging partners to recognise the Libyan National Council, set up in Benghazi last month.
But Germany has said it wants Europe to listen to the opinions of Libya’s neighbours and the Arab League before it decides whether to recognise the rebel body.
“I would first like to know how the countries in the region and the Arab League see it before we in Europe once more form
our own definitive opinion before everyone else,” Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s foreign minister, said on Friday.
He also expressed concern over plans for a no-fly zone over Libya, a move spearheaded by Britain and France.
“A no-fly zone is not putting up a traffic sign, but intervening with bombs, rockets, weapons,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, do we go further, with land forces?”
‘Gaddafi must go’
Sarkozy met with leaders of the Libyan opposition on Thursday evening, in what was the first high-level meeting between a foreign head of government and the rebels’ National Council.
Faced with the aggressive assault by Gaddafi’s forces, the Libyan opposition is frustrated that NATO is still debating the imposition of a no-fly zone.
The French and British leaders issued a letter late on Thursday night saying that they wanted action to be taken against Gaddafi’s government, including an arms embargo, an expansion of the sanctions already in place.
“Colonel Gaddafi must go, his regime is illegitimate, what he is doing to his people is completely unacceptable,” Cameron told Al Jazeera ahead of the EU meeting on Friday.
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Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, added her voice to the calls for Gaddafi to step down on Friday.
Battles in the north African nation are raging as rebels pile on pressure on the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to cripple Gaddafi’s air force.
There will be no concrete discussion of the no-fly zone in the EU meeting, however, Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher reported from Brussels.
While several world powers have backed such a measure, the logistics are yet to be worked out with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, saying such a move should be driven by the United Nations and not the United States.
On Thursday, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary-general, said that “further planning will be required” if a no-fly zone were to be enforced, under the UN’s mandate.
Unconfirmed reports from the French government suggest Sarkozy supports targeted air strikes against strategic targets in Tripoli, though EU has no capacity to order military action.
“Nicolas Sarkozy will be working behind the scenes saying if this goes to the United Nations, we expect Europe to speak with one voice,” Fisher said.
‘Nation will not bear both of us’
Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), on Thursday warned that Libya was in a state of “civil war”, and appealed for aid workers to be given greater access to the country.
James Clapper, the American director of national intelligence, gave a controversial analysis of the Libyan crisis, predicting that Gaddafi would be likely to retain control of at least part of the country in the long-term, given his superior weapons and manpower.
“Over time I think the regime will prevail,” Clapper told the armed services committee on Thursday.
“With respect to the rebels in Libya, and whether or not they will succeed or not, I think frankly they’re in for a tough row,” he said.
Some senators called for Clapper to be fired because of his comments.
Amid such discussions, Gaddafi has launched his own diplomatic effort, sending emissaries to Brussels and Cairo.
Opposition forces have vowed to continue fighting against Gaddafi, regardless of a no-fly zone.
“If they implement a no-fly zone we will ask for other things. Even if they do not implement it, we will fight,” Iman Bugaigis, a media officer with the rebel February 17 Coalition, told reporters in Benghazi.
“There is no return for us. This nation will not bear both of us. It is us or his [Gaddafi’s] family. After what happened
in Zawiyah, how can we live with this person?” she said.