ISTANBUL (Reuters) - NATO member Turkey on Monday said it opposed growing international calls to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, saying such operation would be unhelpful and fraught with risk.
“Military intervention by NATO in Libya or any other country would be totally counter-productive,” Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is the only Muslim member of NATO, told an international forum in Istanbul.
Erdogan spoke as France stepped up efforts to persuade world powers to impose a no-fly zone and after the Arab League gave a regional seal of approval NATO has said is vital for any military action.
France, hosting a Group of Eight foreign ministers later on Monday, along with Britain has led calls for a no-fly zone.
Washington has said any decision to impose a no-fly zone is a matter for the United Nations and should not be a U.S.-led initiative.
But Erdogan said foreign interventions, especially military ones, had in the past only deepened the problems.
“We need to give the Libyan people permission to chart their own course,” he said.
NATO needs to make decisions by consensus. In the event of a vote on a military intervention, Turkey could decide to abstain, which means Ankara would not actually block it.
The U.N. Security Council is due to hold consultations on a no-fly zone on Monday, a diplomat at the U.N. told Reuters.
Non-Arab Turkey, a rising diplomatic and economic power in the Middle East, had projects worth more than $15 billion in Libya.
Analysts said business interests, along with Erdogan’s apprehension over the implications of backing a Western-led intervention in the region three months before parliamentary elections in Turkey, could be behind Ankara’s opposition.
Libya was part of the Ottoman Empire from the 16th century until it was conquered by Italy in 1912.
“Erdogan is unsure about the ultimate victor of the revolt in Libya and he might be hedging his bets,” Fadi Hakura, an associate fellow at the London-based Chatham House said.
Erdogan, who last year received a human rights award from Muammar Gaddafi, told Al Arabiya television in an interview broadcast on Monday he had told Gaddafi he should name a president with popular support as a way to end Libya’s crisis.
Erdogan told the channel he expected Gaddafi, who has been in power for more than four decades, to take “positive steps in this direction.”
“I called Gaddafi three times and I proposed to him that all the while he says that he is not a president, that he nominates someone picked by him who enjoys the support of the Libyan people to be the president for the coming period,” Erdogan said.
Turkey, a Muslim democracy with a secular constitution, has been cited as a model for the volatile region.
Speaking to the same international forum, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Ankara supported change in the region, but through a peaceful path.
“Change is necessary but peaceful change being the method is also necessary. It should not be a war among brothers that creates new tensions that evolves into a blood feud,” Davutoglu said. (Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia and Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Jon Boyle)