BRUSSELS/PARIS (Reuters) - NATO could soon take a planning role in international military operations in Libya now being led by the United States, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said, adding Arab nations opposed NATO being in control.
Juppe said France hoped Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan government would collapse from within from the pressure of the action by world powers to enforce a U.N. Security Council resolution to halt attacks on rebels that are killing civilians.
“When will the regime collapse? It is quite possible that given the weakness of the regime, it will break up from within,” he said.
Forces loyal to Gaddafi surrounded Misrata, the only big rebel stronghold in western Libya, on Monday and Western forces prepared to switch from air strikes to air patrols amid questions over whether coordination would be effective without a clear NATO role.
Juppe said while the United States was currently coordinating the interventions with France and Britain, in the next few days, if the United States pulled back from the operation, NATO would be ready to come in with support.
“The Arab League does not want the operation to be placed completely under NATO’s responsibility,” Juppe said.
“It’s a coalition of countries that is leading the operation, so they are in political control of it, and Arab countries, North American countries and European countries are participating in it,” he said.
“Whether later, in the unfolding of the operation, NATO could bring its contribution to the planning and running of operations, (the answer is) yes,” he added.
Earlier on Monday, a French diplomatic source said the Arab League had made it clear it does not want NATO involved.
“As a coalition, we have to find a solution that meets the Arab League’s demands, which is that NATO doesn’t make political decisions on Libya, but that at some time is involved in the coordination. The negotiations are still going on,” he said.
France deployed about 20 military aircraft over Libya on Monday, and a Mirage jet destroyed an armored vehicle about 100 km south of Benghazi, with no civilian deaths in the process, armed forces spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard said, adding Gaddafi’s ground-to-air defenses had been considerably weakened.
France’s Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier should be in place and ready to participate in the operation from Tuesday, armed forces spokesman Thierry Burkhard told a news briefing.
He said France’s air force was operating mainly in the area around the eastern city of Benghazi “for the moment” and said there was no direct military coordination with Libyan rebel forces on the ground.
Members of the rebel Libyan National Council were due to meet Foreign Ministry officials and presidential advisers on Monday to discuss the latest developments.
An adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy said western air strikes in Libya were likely to last “a while yet,” but it was up to Libyans and not the international community to decide what course the country takes.
Henri Guaino, one of Sarkozy’s closest aides, said the U.N.-mandated coalition’s strikes against Libyan targets were not aimed at ousting Gaddafi.
“That’s not in the United Nations mandate. That’s the best result that could be reached, but the Libyan revolution belongs to the Libyans,” Guaino told French radio RMC.
“It’s not up to the international community to decide the fate of the Libyans,” he added. “Everybody clearly has in mind the secondary aim of Colonel Gaddafi’s departure.”
Asked if the attacks were likely to continue, Guaino said they would carry on for “a while yet.”
Government spokesman Francois Baroin told Canal+ television France had no evidence of civilian casualties in the strikes and warned against a “communications and propaganda campaign” by pro-Gaddafi officials in Libya.
Reporting John Irish, Jean-Baptiste Vey and Leigh Thomas in Paris and Daniel Flynn in Brussels; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Janet Lawrence