29 Mar 2011

Libya: nations gather in London to discuss crisis

As the international community meets in London to discuss Libya’s future, Foreign Secretary William Hague defends the intervention to Channel 4 News and what could happen if Gaddafi flees Libya.

The conference, a meeting of around 40 nations and international organisations, “widened and deepened the coalition”, according to Foreign Secretary William Hague.

He announced that it had set up a “contact group” to help the transition council in Libya.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Today I believe should be about a new beginning for Libya – a future in which the people of Libya can determine their own destiny, free from violence and oppression.

“But the reason for being here today is that the Libyan people cannot reach that future on their own.”

Today I believe should be about a new beginning for Libya – but the Libyan people cannot reach that future on their own. Prime Minister David Cameron

Mr Hague defended the western intervention in Libya to Channel 4 News, saying: “We are involved in order to protect the civilian population and we have done that successfully…I think we have saved hundreds of lives but that does not mean that this will go absolutely smoothly, the rebels will always sweep forwards. It is a complicated situation.”

After the conference, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that a solution could include Gaddafi leaving the country, and the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe admitted arming the rebels was not off the cards.

He said a new political contact group had been created comprising 20 countries and organisations and would meet next in Qatar, then Italy.

“I remind you it is not part of the UN resolution, which France sticks to, but we are ready to discuss it (arming) with our partners,” Mr Juppe told reporters. On whether Gaddafi should go into exile, Mr Juppe said there was no future for the Libyan leader in his country, but that it was up to the Libyan people to decide his fate.

In the interview with Channel 4 News, Mr Hague reiterated that there was “no viable future for Libya with Colonel Gaddafi at the helm”, but when asked by Jon Snow if Gaddafi could flee the country, when countries are obliged to hand him over to the International Criminal Court, he said: “There are some countries that do not hand people over to the International Criminal Court. The President of Sudan, is in office, the incumbent in Sudan, is indicted by the International Criminal Court. But of course I want the ICC to do its work.

“After today’s events the Gaddafi regime is more isolated than it has ever been, the determination of the international community to step up the pressure is more intense than it has ever been, and the opposition have made the clearest statement of commitment to democratic values that they ever have and all of those things therefore add up to a good day’s work.”

Gaddafi exile

There are already splits among UN nations over western intervention in Libya, as 40 nations and organisations gathered in London for an international conference on the country’s future.

While Britain and France pushed for action after weeks of protests spurred Gaddafi into turning on his own people, Russia and China abstained in the UN vote over a no-fly zone and military intervention in Libya. Italy has also made it clear that it has concerns over the intervention process and has instead pushed for a ceasefire, humanitarian corridor, and exile for Gaddafi.

The coalition’s bombing of Gaddafi’s forces and air defences has seen rebels push forward in recent days.

Gaddafi is no longer a political interlocutor; the future of Libya is without Gaddafi spokesman for Italian foreign minister

A spokesman for Franco Frattini, the Italian Foreign Minister, told Channel 4 News that Libya’s future did not include the Colonel.

“Gaddafi is no longer a political interlocutor; the future of Libya is without Gaddafi. His future depends on himself and the Libyan people.

“We hope that through the African Union for example he could be persuaded to go into exile somewhere. This is only one of the hypotheses on the table. Another is that he is sidelined by his own people, a third is that he could be attacked by the rebels.”

Meeting with a point to prove
But in the end a huge part of today was about the image, writes Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon.

Nearly 40 foreign ministers and world organisations united, the planning for post-Gaddafi Libya underway…the message they hope is sent out is that the disunity and lousy planning over Iraq were mistakes that were not being repeated.

Read more from Gary Gibbon on the Libya meeting

But although Italy has been reported as trying to organise a potential exile destination for Mr Gaddafi, so far, none has been mooted.

The Italian delegation spokesman said if the coalition did not agree multilaterally on various measures, it could potentially fracture the international consensus – including over controversial issues such as whether to arm the rebels or not, which he did not rule out.

“Any measure should be considered in the framework of the UN Security Council resolution 1973 and should be are compatible with this resolution. Measures going beyond this are going to be controversial and could cause a split in the coalition,” he said.

Italy is also calling for is an internationally monitored ceasefire.

Libya absent

More than 40 delegations from around the world discussed the next steps for Libya however, no representative from the Libyan opposition attended.

The Foreign Office told Channel 4 News that only Mahmoud Jabril from the Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC) is in London (at the Government’s request,) but he did not attend the summit. However, Downing Street said the UK is in diplomatic contact with the transitional council and Foreign Secretary William Hague met Mr Jabril for talks about the ongoing situation in Libya.

Mr Hague said: “We discussed the current political and humanitarian situation in Libya. We agreed on the absolute importance of protecting and safeguarding civilians in Libya.

A Libyan summit without Libya
What an odd thing Libya is. In all the warring adventures of the last two interventionist decades, Libya must rate the oddest. And what a strange event today in London – a full-blown international summit – 35 nations attending in one form or another, discussing an entity which will not itself be present – Libya.

Read more from Jon Snow's blog on the Libyan summit

“We considered how best the UK as well as other attendees at today’s London conference can best support the Libyan people, and I asked for Mr Jabril’s assessment of the humanitarian needs in Libya and priorities for international assistance.”

Mr Jabril also published the ITNC’s plan for Libya’s future – which you can read in full here.

Meanwhile anti-Gaddafi forces made significant advances amid continued coalition air strikes on regime forces. The advance has so far been halted short of Mr Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte, a key regime stronghold, and civilians in Misrata and Zintan remain under heavy attack from regime forces.

Libya warfare (Reuters)

International unity

The conference brought together all members of the coalition involved in the military operation, as well as the United Nations, NATO, the African Union and the Arab League.

Arab countries Qatar, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates attended, as the coalition sought to strengthen the alliance behind military action. The conference also examined humanitarian aid options for up to 80,000 people who have been displaced in Libya.

Russia, which abstained from the UN vote and has said the attacks on Gaddafi’s forces on the ground go beyond the terms of the security council resolution which authorised a no-fly zone, did not attend.

Obama: new ‘supporting role’ for US

The allies insist the air assaults on Gaddafi’s military forces are designed to protect civilians – as authorised by the UN – and not to aid the rebel advance.

NATO – which has already taken over responsibility for enforcing the arms embargo and no-fly zone – would take full command of all military operations from Wednesday.

The United States would gradually shift to a “supporting role” – involving intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue capabilities and measures to block regime communications, President Obama said.

Read the Channel 4 News special report: Libya war: strike against Gaddafi