U.N. Security Council mulls Libya no-fly zone

UNITED NATIONS - Security Council supporters of a no-fly zone over Libya were working Wednesday to persuade the group's more reluctant members to back a U.N. resolution aimed at stopping Muammar Qaddafi's planes from bombing the Libyan people.

While Russia and Germany were expressing doubts, France was pushing for rapid action with Foreign Minister Alain Juppe saying in Paris that several Arab countries have pledged to participate in possible military action in the North African country.

Juppe wrote on his blog Wednesday that France and Britain have sought targeted air strikes for two weeks and said two conditions are necessary: a Security Council mandate for such force and "effective" participation by Arab states. "Several Arab countries assured us that they will participate," Juppe wrote, without elaborating.

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"Libya's leadership has something to worry about if the U.N. Security Council passes the no-fly zone resolution as it is being debated," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk, who is based at the U.N., "It is wide-ranging and includes a no-fly zone, restrictions on Libyan commercial aircraft, and a tightening on earlier-imposed sanctions."

The resolution has teeth, Falk said; the problem is that every day that passes changes the situation on the ground and implementing the military and embargo aspects of this plan will take time.

The latest push for a ban on flights in Libya came as Qaddafi's forces intensified offensives in the east and the west Wednesday with relentless shelling aimed at routing rebel holdouts.

Rebels braced for a possible attack on the eastern city of Benghazi, where the rebellion was born a month ago. Qaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam, warned rebels that government troops were closing in on Benghazi and urged them to leave the country. "Within 48 hours everything will be finished," he said in an interview with Lyon, France-based EuroNews television.

In the same interview, the younger Qaddafi said that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had received funding from Libya for his 2007 election campaign — a claim Sarkozy's office immediately denied.

Lingering doubts among some members over a no-fly zone were immediately apparent after a proposed resolution was introduced Tuesday afternoon in the 15-member U.N. Security Council. Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said council members will discuss the proposed resolution "paragraph by paragraph" during their Wednesday meeting because members had "a number of questions about the text."

Colombian Ambassador Nestor Osorio said Wednesday his country "very much supported" efforts to halt violence against Libyan civilians but still had questions about the details of a possible no-fly zone. Other ambassadors said issues to be clarified included whether the ban would apply to all flights countrywide, and what countries would contribute planes and other assets to enforce it.

Lebanon, the Security Council's only Arab member, introduced the no-fly provisions in a draft resolution — strongly endorsed by the Arab League — to council members at a closed meeting Tuesday afternoon. The Arabs are strongly backed by France and Britain, which drafted elements of a no-fly resolution last week.

"We are deeply distressed by the fact that things are worsening on the ground, that the Qaddafi forces are moving forward extremely quickly, and that this council has not yet reacted," France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters Tuesday.

France and Britain failed to win support for a no-fly zone during a two-day meeting of Group of Eight foreign ministers in Paris earlier Tuesday and the G-8's final communique did not mention a flight ban. It instead warned of unspecified "dire consequences" if Qaddafi did not honor the Libyan people's claim to basic rights, freedom of expression, and representative government.

Lebanon's U.N. Ambassador Nawaf Salam said Tuesday the section on the no-fly zone was drafted in consultation with Libya's U.N. diplomats, who have denounced Qaddafi and back opposition forces. Salam said Britian introduced another section on "the strengthening and widening of sanctions" on Libya.

The Arab League called Saturday on the U.N. "to shoulder its responsibility ... to impose a no-fly zone over the movement of Libyan military planes and to create safe zones in the places vulnerable to airstrikes."

Salam said Lebanon has asked Libya's U.N. Mission to identify specific areas where civilians would need protection and safe passage corridors.

The Security Council on Feb. 26 imposed an arms embargo on Libya and ordered all countries to freeze assets and ban travel for Qaddafi and some close associates. It also referred the regime's deadly crackdown on protesters to the International Criminal Court, for an investigation of possible crimes against humanity.

U.N. diplomats said the proposed new resolution would call for more muscular enforcement of the arms embargo, add names of individuals, companies and other entities to the list of those subject to travel bans and asset freezes, and ban commercial flights bringing arms or mercenaries into Libya.

The draft resolution would also authorize states to work together to provide humanitarian assistance and take necessary measures to protect civilians. It also would establish a panel of experts to monitor implementation, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the text has not been released.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the G-8 that his country wants more details and clarity from the Arab League about its proposals for Libya before approving any military intervention, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said his country was "very skeptical" about military action.

Lebanon's Salam insisted that a no-fly zone "in no way could qualify as a foreign intervention."

"I would hope that the establishment of a no-fly zone would have a deterrent effect on the Qaddafi regime, not to fly its airplanes to attack civilian areas," he said.

The White House said President Barack Obama on Tuesday instructed his national security team to "fully engage" in discussions at the United Nations, NATO and with countries and organizations in the region when reviewing options to increase pressure on Qaddafi.

Obama and his top national security aides have been cautious with calls for a no-fly zone, which the Pentagon has described as a step tantamount to war. The U.S. fears it could further strain its already stretched military and entangle the country in an expensive and messy conflict.