Godollo (Hungary), March 12 (DPA) European Union foreign ministers appeared reluctant Saturday to approve military action against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, with the bloc’s most influential member, Germany, appearing to have the strongest doubts.
On Friday, EU leaders called for Gaddafi to “relinquish power immediately”, recognised an umbrella Libyan opposition group as a “political interlocutor” and pledged to “examine all necessary options” if attacks against civilians did not stop.
But German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle warned that imposing a no-fly zone, or any kind of military intervention, could be misinterpreted as a “Christian crusade against people of the Muslim faith”.
“We don’t want to get pulled into a war in North Africa,” said Westerwelle. “I don’t think it’s healthy when Europe talks about other countries, instead of with those countries.”
Westerwelle spoke at a meeting with EU counterparts in Hungary, Godollo, which built Friday’s summit discussions.
Separately, Czech President Vaclav Klaus also expressed strong reservations.
“We have to try to help to stop the humanitarian tragedy in Libya now, but without intervening militarily in Libya or any other country,” he wrote on his blog.
He also characterised the EU recognition of the rebel council in Benghazi as “at least premature, if not basically wrong”.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, whose country has been leading calls for a no-fly zone, sought to reassure more sceptical partners.
“It is not about installing a government in Libya, it is simply about having the means to protect the population if a massacre were to happen, imagine if (the rebel capital) Benghazi were to be bombed, for example,” he said.
Maltese Foreign Minister Tonio Borg – whose country has some of the closest ties in the EU with Libya – confirmed that “there is a reluctance as regards military operations, particularly if they are not backed by the United Nations.”
Borg also broke EU ranks by arguing that the priority should not be forcing Gaddafi out, but to get an end to the violence.
“I personally have called for a ceasefire … stop the fighting and then we shall see what happens,” Borg said, adding that if it was not respected further UN sanctions could be imposed.
The official EU line is that any military intervention would need “a clear legal basis” such as a UN Security Council mandate, as well as “support” from regional organisations such as the Arab League and the African Union, which were invited to hold talks with the EU.
Juppe said “things are progressing” on getting a UN resolution in favour of military action, but doubts remained whether veto-wielding Russia and China would authorize it.
“None of the options are particularly easy,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt commented.
One idea, imposing sanctions on Libya’s oil industry, could have unwanted long-term effects, Bildt warned.
He also indicated that any military intervention would “more likely” be a matter for the EU, rather than NATO.
“It is NATO and in fact the Americans who have the military assets that are going to be necessary in some of the difficulties,” he stressed.