Britain and France warned Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi on Thursday that escalating violence against his own people could prompt foreign powers to impose a no-fly zone, but they made clear no such move was imminent.
British Foreign Minister William Hague, speaking at a joint press conference with his French counter part said that the international community "continue to plan for different contingencies, including a no-fly zone, to ensure we can respond swiftly and resolutely to events in Libya."
Both Hague and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said they were working on proposals to put to a European Union leaders' meeting on Libya on March 11 but that an airspace closure would require UN backing and support among Arab countries in the region.
After years of friendship with various autocrats of North Africa, including Gadhafi, Europe’s leaders are suddenly falling over one another to condemn the Libyan leader and strike forceful poses against tyranny in the region.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has been particularly forceful, suggesting that his country would go so far as to consider military intervention in Libya.
Cameron’s tough response elicited ridicule from Gadhafi’s son Said al-Islam: "Everybody wants to be a hero,” he told Sky News.
The British Prime Minister soon backtracked from his new, getting in line with France and the United States, after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that military intervention by outsiders might be counter-productive and so needed to be considered carefully.
Foreign military involvement in Arab countries is a sensitive topic for Western nations uncomfortably aware that Iraq suffered years of bloodletting and al Qaida violence after a 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.
"France, for its part, does not think that in the current circumstances military intervention, NATO forces, would be welcomed in the south of the Mediterranean, and (it) could be counterproductive," Juppe said.
"That said, given the threats from Colonel Gadhafi, we have to be in a position to react, and that is why we agreed to plans for a no-fly zone over Libya," he added.
France had backed contingency planning on the issue at a
NATO meeting held on Wednesday, Juppe said. Hague said there was no difference on strategy between Paris, London and Washington.
However, Germany expressed serious reservations.
"We are at the moment not in the situation to decide this (no-fly zone)," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said during a visit to Slovakia.
"We have many thousands of foreign citizens and we want to fly them out. This is the first point," he told reporters.
"We do not participate, and we do not share a discussion of military intervention, because we think this would be very counterproductive," Westerwelle said.
Rebels fighting against Gaddafi, who control large swathes of the country, have called for foreign air strikes against what they said were foreign mercenaries fighting for the government.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now