Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Obama wins allies’ backing on Nato

US wary of being drawn into the conflict, aiming to transfer control of the mission to Nato
Published: 2011/03/23 08:02:39 AM

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama yesterday won British and French support for a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) role in the air campaign against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi as the western allies thrashed out operational details aimed at transferring US control of the mission.

Mr Obama, lobbying hard to hand off US command of Libya operations to allies within days, telephoned British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy and all agreed that the Nato alliance would play an important role, the White House said.

But the allies have stopped short of explicitly endorsing Nato political leadership of the mission, which they fear could be a hard sell for Nato member Turkey and undercut shaky Arab support for the effort to bolster anti-Gaddafi rebels.

"What we are saying right now is that Nato will have a key role to play here," Ben Rhodes, a senior White House national security aide, told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Mr Obama’s personal diplomacy underscored that Nato’s command-and-control capability would make it central to the campaign against Gaddafi’s forces, which began with air strikes on Saturday to protect civilians.

Seeking to shore up international backing for the operation, Mr Obama has called leaders in Europe and the Middle East and has stressed Nato must take over a co-ordinating role as he seeks to avoid getting US forces bogged down in another Muslim country after Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Brussels, Nato diplomats agreed to enforce an arms embargo on Libya but again saw heated debate over whether the alliance should run the military campaign over Libya.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in Moscow that he still saw "a quick hand-over ". Reuters

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