NATO sets Libya terms, discusses Afghan handover

Arab World Materials 15 April 2011 04:18 (UTC +04:00)

NATO foreign ministers pledged Thursday that the alliance would maintain pressure on Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi and discussed progress in Afghanistan's security handover, at talks in Berlin, dpa reported.

The bloc's 28 members - plus six other countries supporting the military campaign on Libya - signed a draft statement stipulating the terms under which they would end their campaign, aimed at protecting Libyan civilians. However, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO needed more fighter jets to conduct their military efforts.

Libya dominated the first day of the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Berlin, which was originally scheduled as a follow-up to last year's Lisbon summit at which the bloc agreed a new strategic concept.

Rasmussen said NATO's operation would continue until Gaddafi's forces ended all attacks against civilians, had withdrawn all troops - including mercenaries - to military bases, and enabled humanitarian access for all Libyans in need.

"This shows our strong and clear commitment to fulfil the UN mandate and protect the Libyan people," Rasmussen said.

However he added that, as Gaddafi's forces had changed tactics and become harder to distinguish from civilians and rebel fighters, NATO required more "sophisticated equipment" to conduct the campaign.

"We need a few more precision fighter ground attack aircraft for air to ground missions," Rasmussen said.

The demand had been made by US Admiral James Stavridis, NATO's supreme allied commander, in order to avoid civilian casualties.

"I am confident nations will step up to the plate," Rasmussen said of Stavridis' request.

Ministers also agreed that, ultimately, only a political solution would resolve the crisis.

"It is for the Libyan people to decide about the future of Libya," Rasmussen said.

Germany has insisted on diplomatic means to resolve the situation, in contrast to France and Britain, which have called upon NATO to step up its military pressure on Gaddafi's forces.

But Rasmussen brushed aside suggestions of a rift within the alliance.

"We have agreed on a set of rules of engagement, and there is no request to change these rules of engagement," he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country "unreservedly" shared the goals of the UN Security Council resolution authorizing NATO's military campaign, although Germany had abstained in the vote and refused to commit troops.

"The resolution stands. The international community stands together," Merkels told ministers at an evening reception. "Each of us is making manifold contributions to implement this resolution - military as well as non-military."

Earlier, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Merkel agreed on the need for Gaddafi to depart from office, at a meeting in the chancellor's Berlin office.

"We are contributing in many ways in order to see that goal realized," Clinton added, stressing that Germany was an "essential partner" for NATO.

Later in the day, talks turned to NATO's ISAF mission in Afghanistan, where the transfer of security to local forces has been set in motion.

Rasmussen said Afghanistan was entering a "new phase," as the NATO-led mission ISAF was set to begin handing over the lead responsibility for security to Afghan security forces.

"But let me be very clear: transition does not equate to withdrawal," Rasmussen continued, adding that ISAF would take on a stronger role training and supporting their Afghan counterparts, and "build up the capacity of Afghan local governance.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who co-hosted the Berlin meeting, said ISAF was on track to begin its security handover in July, but warned that the process would not be straightforward.

"Particularly in this critical year, we will experience setbacks," Westerwelle said.

All 48 countries participating in ISAF were represented in Berlin, and pledged support for Afghanistan beyond 2014, when the last NATO troops are to leave the country.

Clinton urged the allies to demonstrate their solidarity with financial pledges, according to NATO's representative in Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill. He said the country would need 6 to 8 billion dollars (4 to 5.5 billon euros) annually, to cover policing and security forces.

A NATO fund for the Afghan army contained just 130 million euros, with a further 230 million in the pipeline, Sedwill added. NATO's foreign ministers are to continue their meeting Friday, with discussions on the alliance's cooperation with Russia, Georgia and Ukraine.