Arabs split as Europe looks for Libya guidance
CAIRO (Reuters) - Arab states will on Saturday discuss a no-fly zone for Libya and the idea of extending formal recognition to rebels fighting Muammar Gaddafi at a meeting that European states hope will guide their next steps.
But divisions among Arab states will likely preclude agreement on those ideas, experts on Arab diplomacy say, which could disappoint European governments hoping for clear Arab League positions that will help shape their policy.
"The chances of a clear position to be issued with consensus from the meeting tomorrow saying 'yes' to a no-fly zone and recognition of the (rebel) council is very weak," said Wahid Abdel-Meguid, an analyst at a Cairo-based political think-tank.
Gulf states, all members of the 22-member Arab League, have adopted a tough position toward Gaddafi. His ties with many of them, and in particular heavyweight Saudi Arabia, have been bad for years.
In language reflecting the positions of some European governments, Gulf Arab ministers said on Thursday Gaddafi's administration had lost its legitimacy and called on the Arab League to take measures including imposing a no-fly zone.
But Syria and Algeria have appeared more supportive, experts say. The position of Egypt, whose revolution helped ignite the Libya revolt, is unclear. Egypt was angered by Gaddafi's accusations that it had fomented the uprising at its outset.
The position of Egypt, buoyed by the moral weight of the revolution that swept Hosni Mubarak from power, could prove crucial in swaying other states one way or the other.
STOPPING THE BLOODSHED
NATO has cited firm regional support as one element required for the imposition of a no-fly zone on Libya.
A senior Arab League official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the idea of a no-fly zone would be on the agenda of the emergency session, along with a proposal to extend formal recognition to the rebel movement based in Benghazi.
The Arab League has appeared to adopt a tough line toward Gaddafi, suspending Libya over its handling of the uprising. It said at a March 2 meeting that imposing a no-fly zone was an option for protecting Libyan civilians.
But an Arab League official said on Friday the body had not completely severed ties with Gaddafi's government.
"There is a need to discuss all kind of details with Libyan officials," Hesham Youssef said. They included how to stop the bloodshed. But a Libyan delegation dispatched to Cairo by Gaddafi would not be allowed to attend the meeting, he said.
"We may meet them. But not in the context of the meeting of the council of ministers," Youssef said. "Nothing has been scheduled as of yet," he said.
The League has established contact with the rebel National Libyan Council in Benghazi, Youssef added.
"We are discussing the humanitarian situation with them and the situation in general -- their evaluation of how things are evolving and so on," he said. The rebel council would not be attending the Arab League meeting either, he added.
On Thursday, France became the first Western nation to give its full backing to the rebel National Libyan Council. The European Union said it may also recognize the council if the Arab League were to do so.
Germany said on Friday it also wanted to hear the Arab view.
Youssef said he hoped Saturday's meeting would be "a step forward in addressing issues pertaining to the protection of the Libyan people and putting an end to the bloodshed.."
(Additional reporting by Dina Zayed; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Matthew Jones)
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