Following U.N. Vote, France Vows Libya Action ‘Soon’
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and ALAN COWELL
TRIPOLI, Libya — Hours after the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize military action and the imposition of a no-flight zone, Libya performed what seemed a remarkable about-face after weeks of defiance, saying it would call an “immediate ceasefire and the stoppage of all military operations” against rebels seeking the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
The pledge came from the Libyan foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, even as western powers said they were readying warplanes for imminent action to enforce the Security Council resolution. It was unclear what effect a ceasefire, if honored, might have on the international mobilization.
At a news conference in Tripoli, Mr. Koussa said Libya accepted the resolution, which included a call for a ceasefire. He registered “sadness” that the resolution included such measures as the no-flight zone and “will have a general impact on the life of the Libyan people.”
Before the announcement, French and British officials said Friday that military action would start soon in an attempt to contain forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi as they threaten a final assault on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
In London, Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that Britain, a leading backer of the no-flight resolution, had begun the preparations to deploy Tornado and Typhoon warplanes along with aerial refueling and surveillance aircraft. He said the planes would move “in the coming hours” to bases where they could start implementing the no-flight zone.
“This is about protecting the Libyan people and saving lives,” Mr. Cameron said. “The world has watched Qaddafi brutally crushing his own people. We expect brutal attacks. Qaddafi is preparing for a violent assault on Benghazi.”
“Any decision to put the men and women of our armed forces into harm’s way should only be taken when absolutely necessary,” he said. “But I believe that we cannot stand back and let a dictator whose people have rejected him kill his people indiscriminately. To do so would send a chilling signal to others.”
“The clock is now ticking,” Mr. Cameron said. “We need a sense of urgency because we don’t want to see a bloodbath in Benghazi.” When criticized for getting British militarily involved, Mr. Cameron retorted: “To pass a resolution like this and then just stand back and hope someone in the region would enforce it is wrong," he said.
Mr. Cameron added that he would attend a meeting in Paris on Saturday with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Arab leaders, but his indicated that a statement would be issued before then “to tell Qaddafi what is expected” — although the Libyan leader had already signaled hostile intentions towards his adversaries in Benghazi.
“We will come house by house, room by room. It’s over. The issue has been decided,” Colonel Qaddafi said on a radio call-in show before the United Nations vote, in which he repeated an offer of amnesty to those who laid down their arms. To those who continued to resist, he vowed: “We will find you in your closets. We will have no mercy and no pity.”
In a television broadcast later, he added: “This is craziness, madness. The world is crazy and we will be crazy, too.”
Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League, which had supported the idea of a no-flight zone, told Reuters on Friday: “‘The goal is to protect civilians first of all, and not to invade or occupy.”
Before Mr. Koussa’s announcement, forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi unleashed a barrage of fire against the rebel-held town of Misurata in the west of the country, news reports said, while one of the colonel’s sons, Seif al-Islam, was quoted as saying government forces would encircle the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east. Eurocontrol, Europe’s air traffic control agency, said in Brussels on Friday that Libya had closed its airspace. It was not immediately clear whether loyalist troops had begun honoring the cease-fire.
François Baroin, a French government spokesman, had told RTL radio that airstrikes would come “rapidly,” perhaps within hours, after the United Nations resolution late Thursday authorizing “all necessary measures” to impose a no-flight zone.
But he insisted the military action “is not an occupation of Libyan territory.” Rather, it was designed to protect the Libyan people and “allow them to go all the way in their drive, which means bringing down the Qaddafi regime.”
The Security Council vote seemed to have divided Europeans, with Germany saying it would not participate while Norway was reported as saying it would. In the region, Turkey was reported to have registered opposition, but Qatar said it would support the operation. In Tripoli, government minders in Tripoli told journalists on Friday that they could not leave their hotel for their own safety, saying that in the aftermath of the United Nations vote, residents might attack or even shoot foreigners. The extent of the danger was unclear.
On Thursday night in New York, after days of often acrimonious debate played out against a desperate clock, and with Colonel Qaddafi’s troops within 100 miles of Benghazi, the Security Council authorized member nations to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, diplomatic code words calling for military action.
Diplomats said the resolution — which passed with 10 votes, including the United States, and abstentions from Russia, China, Germany, Brazil and India — was written in sweeping terms to allow for a wide range of actions, including strikes on air-defense systems and missile attacks from ships.
Benghazi erupted in celebration at news of the resolution’s passage. “We are embracing each other,” said Imam Bugaighis, spokeswoman for the rebel council in Benghazi. “The people are euphoric. Although a bit late, the international society did not let us down.”
The vote, which came after rising calls for help from the Arab world and anguished debate in Washington, left unanswered many critical questions about who would take charge, what role the United States would play and whether there was still enough time to stop Colonel Qaddafi from recapturing Benghazi and crushing a rebellion that had once seemed likely to drive him from power. After the vote, President Obama met with the National Security Council to discuss the possible options, European officials said. He also spoke by telephone on Thursday evening with Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy , the White House said.
After the Security Council’s vote, Libya’s deputy foreign minister, Khalid Kaim, said at a news conference in Tripoli early on Friday that the Qaddafi government welcomed the resolution’s calls for the protection of civilians, which he insisted his government had always sought. But he warned against foreign countries’ trying to arm the rebels. “That means they are inviting Libyans to kill each other,” he said.
Mr. Kaim said the Qaddafi government was ready for a cease-fire with the rebels, “but we need to talk to someone to agree on the technicalities of the decision.” And he declined to address the possibility that the government’s forces were continuing to push swiftly toward Benghazi.
A Pentagon official said Thursday that decisions were still being made about what kind of military action, if any, the United States might take with the allies against Libya. The official said that contingency planning continued across a full range of operations, including a no-flight zone, but that it was unclear how much the United States would become involved beyond providing support.
That support is likely to consist of much of what the United States already has in the region — Awacs radar planes to help with air traffic control should there be airstrikes, other surveillance aircraft and about 400 Marines aboard two amphibious assault ships in the region, the Kearsarge and the Ponce.
The Americans could also provide signal-jamming aircraft in international airspace to muddle Libyan government communications with its military units.
A European diplomat said that Britain and France were still waiting to hear what role the United States would take. “One decision that needs to be made,” he said, “is whether there will be a command and control operations in Britain or in France.”
Beyond that, the diplomat said that officials in Britain, France and the United States were all adamant that Arab League forces take part in the military actions and help pay for the operations, and that it not be led by NATO, to avoid the appearance that the West was attacking another Muslim country.
The United States has played a complicated role in the debate over military involvement, initially expressing great reluctance about being drawn into another armed conflict in a Muslim country but subsequently unnerved by the reports of Colonel Qaddafi’s gains.
But diplomats said the moral imperative of protecting civilians from Colonel Qaddafi and the political imperative of United States not watching from the sidelines while a notorious dictator violently crushed a democratic rebellion had helped wipe away lingering doubts.
Characterizing Colonel Qaddafi as a menacing “creature” lacking a moral compass, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that the international community had little choice but to act. “There is no good choice here. If you don’t get him out and if you don’t support the opposition and he stays in power, there’s no telling what he will do,” Mrs. Clinton said from Tunisia on Thursday.
She went on to say Qaddafi would do “terrible things” to Libya and its neighbors. “It’s just in his nature. There are some creatures that are like that.” Her remarks, applauded by the studio audience where she appeared, amounted to the administration’s most stridently personal attacks on the Libyan leader, echoing President Ronald Reagan’s “mad dog of the Middle East.”
The resolution — sponsored by Lebanon, another Arab state, and strongly backed by France, Britain and the United States — explicitly mentions the need to protect civilians in the rebel stronghold Benghazi, “while excluding an occupation force.” It calls to “establish a ban on all flights in the airspace” and an immediate cease-fire.
Mrs. Clinton said Thursday that establishing a no-fly zone over Libya would require bombing targets inside the country to protect planes and pilots. She said other options being considered included the use of drones and arming rebel forces, though not ground troops, an option that appeared to be ruled out Thursday by the State Department’s highest-ranking career diplomat, Under Secretary William J. Burns.
The vote was also a seminal moment for the 192-member United Nations and was being watched closely as a critical test of its ability to take collective action to prevent atrocities against civilians. Diplomats said the specter of former conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, when a divided and sluggish Security Council was seen to have cost lives, had given a sense of moral urgency to Thursday’s debate. Yet some critics also noted that a no-fly zone authorized in the early 1990s in Bosnia had failed to prevent some of the worst massacres there, including the Srebrenica massacre.
The resolution stresses the necessity of notifying the Arab League of military action and specifically notes an “important role” for Arab nations in enforcing the no-fly zone. Diplomats said Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were considering taking a leading role, with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt also considering participating.
The participation of Arab countries in enforcing a no-fly zone has been seen as a prerequisite for the United States, keen not to spur a regional backlash. Diplomats said debate on the resolution had been contentious, with Russia and China reluctant to support military intervention. The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, also opposed military action and called for tougher sanctions.