WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to London for a meeting on Libya on Tuesday as operational command shifts from the United States to NATO leadership, a U.S. official said on Thursday.
The meeting, called by Britain and France, is intended to create a contact group to provide political guidance for the international response to the Libya crisis. Such a move could ease concerns among Arab and other countries about NATO being in charge.
NATO moved closer to agreement to take command of allied military operations in Libya from the United States within days after lengthy wrangling with Muslim NATO member Turkey.
Turkish leaders questioned the motives behind Western intervention in Libya, suggesting action was driven by oil and mineral wealth rather than a desire to protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.
Relinquishing U.S. leadership of the Libya operation is a priority for President Barack Obama, who is trying to extricate Washington from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and faces doubts at home about the wisdom of the campaign.
Turkey had insisted NATO should have sole control to prevent offensive operations that could harm civilians or a divided command where NATO was in charge of enforcing a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone while coalition planes continued to bomb Libyan forces.
France, which launched the air campaign with Britain and the United States on Saturday, said NATO should play a technical role by providing its command structure for the operation, while an ad hoc steering group of coalition members, including the Arab League, exercises political control.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague has said the meeting would discuss the situation in Libya and take stock of the implementation of two U.N. Security Council resolutions in response to Gaddafi’s crackdown on a revolt.
A British government source said the London meeting would be political rather than military in nature and would focus on how to further pressure the Gaddafi government.
Writing by Andrew Quinn; editing by Christopher Wilson