Gül urges Gaddafi to step down as NATO nears deal

  • Wed Mar 23rd 2011

President Abdullah Gül called on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to step down as soon as possible to prevent bloodshed and repetition of what happened in Iraq after a US-led invasion in 2003 and said this would “deny others the opportunity to plunder” Libya.

“If you recall what happened in Iraq and the actions of Saddam Hussein, this could be repeated somehow,” Gül told reporters before departing on a visit to Ghana on Wednesday. Referring apparently to France, which carried out the first air strikes on Gaddafi forces on Saturday that initiated a military campaign in Libya, the president also said some countries are now involved in “extreme actions” that stand in sharp contrast to their close ties with dictators in the recent past. “They are leading to suspicions. They are causing doubts on whether there are hidden intentions at play,” Gül said.

Gül's remarks came as NATO appeared close to a deal to allow the alliance to take a key operational role in the military campaign in Libya. Efforts to that effect have so far been hampered by French and Turkish objections.

Both countries opposed a strong NATO role on different grounds. Turkey is reluctant to let the alliance serve missions outlined by the current military coalition, which consists of France, the United States and Britain, and says the current military operation, which began hours after a summit in Paris, is not in compliance with appropriate international procedures. France, for its part, wants to remain in charge of the operation and says a NATO-led operation would not receive any backing from Arab countries. To strengthen its argument, France has cited the alliance’s poor reputation in the Arab world as a result of the war in Afghanistan and the perception that NATO is dominated by the United States.

Amid the disagreement, Italy has warned that it would take back control of airbases it has authorized for use by allies for operations over Libya unless a NATO coordination structure was agreed on. Under the emerging deal, which followed US President Barack Obama’s telephone conversations with Turkish, French and British leaders, NATO’s command structure will be used for the operations under the political leadership of a political committee comprising representatives from the West and the Arab world.

The compromise would solve two problems: It would give the United States, which has been coordinating the military effort but is eager to hand off those duties, an organization to hand off to. A number of European leaders have said that, other than the US, only NATO has the capacity, experience and staff to coordinate such an international operation. And it would provide political cover for NATO, which some say has been tainted in the eyes of the Arab world by its role in the war in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, the White House announced that US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agreed during a phone conversation on Tuesday that the Libya mission should be an international effort that includes Arab states and is “enabled by NATO’s unique multinational command and control capabilities to ensure maximum effectiveness.” Western diplomats said Obama’s call to Erdoğan appeared to have won backing for at least some NATO role in enforcing the UN resolution, which could help speed the transfer of control of the operation.

But Turkish officials were cautious as NATO representatives were meeting for the fifth day in a row in Brussels, saying the statement does not mean there is an agreement on all the issues discussed. “They are not that far from the US on a role for NATO. There is room for negotiation there,” one Washington-based diplomat said.

After days of negotiations, NATO agreed on Tuesday to have its warships begin enforcing an arms embargo on Libya and an agreement reportedly was gradually emerging about how NATO would take responsibility for enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya. Turkey wants NATO to have a limited mandate and has said it wanted any foreign intervention to be limited to humanitarian missions only, while some allies reportedly questioned whether a no-fly zone was necessary, given the damage already done by air strikes to Gaddafi’s military capabilities.

Obama, speaking Tuesday in El Salvador, said he was confident the US could hand over control of the operation within days. Speaking in Moscow, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said: “This isn’t a NATO mission. This is a mission in which the NATO machinery may be used for command and control,” he said. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe agreed: “This is not a NATO operation, even if it must be able to rely on military planning and intervention capacities of the Alliance.” Paris, however, seems bent on excluding Turkey from the council of states that will be politically in charge of the operation, as Juppe said his government wants the new body to bring together foreign ministers of states already participating in the attacks -- including Britain, France and the US -- as well as several Arab nations.

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