March 17, 2011 / 4:35 PM / 9 years ago

France pushes UN council to vote on help for Libya

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - France pressed the U.N. Security Council to vote on Thursday on a resolution that Britain said would authorize all steps in Libya short of a military occupation to protect Libyan civilians.

A file photo shows the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York. REUTERS/Mike Segar

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe headed for New York to urge the 15-nation council not to waste any time adopting a resolution that would authorize a no-fly zone, expanded sanctions against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his inner circle and other steps.

The United States said a vote would likely be taken at 3:30 p.m. EDT (1930 GMT). French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud earlier said he wanted a vote by 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT).

Lebanon, Britain and France circulated a draft resolution on Tuesday that called for “all necessary measures” to enforce a ban on all flights over Libya except for humanitarian flights and to protect civilians.

The United States, in a sharp shift in tone, wants the United Nations to authorize not just a no-fly zone to aid Libyan rebels but also air strikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery, U.S. officials said.

The diplomatic efforts at the United Nations come as Libyan troops advance toward the insurgent stronghold of Benghazi and launch air raids on its outskirts.

British Foreign Minister William Hague gave members of the British parliament some details about the latest version of the draft resolution under discussion in New York.

“The resolution that is under discussion today includes demands for an immediate ceasefire, a complete end to violence, a ban on all flights in Libyan air space with the exception of humanitarian flights,” Hague said.

“It calls for all necessary measures short of an occupation force to protect civilians under threat of attack, including in Benghazi,” he said.

The draft resolution also includes measures to deny Libyan planes permission to take off, land or overfly the territory of U.N. member states, Hague said.


Diplomats said several Arab countries had offered to take part in enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya. One diplomat said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were among those that had indicated they might be willing to participate.

Some council members, including veto powers Russia and China, as well as Germany, India and others, remain either undecided or have expressed doubts about how a no-fly zone could be enforced and whether it would help at all.

A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes to pass. Diplomats said that Russia and China would likely abstain. There may be several more abstentions, they said.

In Paris, a French diplomatic source said France was “convinced we have the nine votes” and that a veto would be surprising. In Washington, Undersecretary of State William Burns told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee it was “hard to predict” how Russia and China would vote.

Washington originally reacted cautiously to calls for a no-fly zone over Libya, with some officials concerned it could be militarily ineffective or politically damaging. It has insisted Arab nations actively participate in any such action over Libya.

But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice on Wednesday gave the clearest statement from Washington so far that it will now back a Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone over the North African state.

“The U.S. view is that we need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include but perhaps go beyond a no-fly zone,” Rice said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that the fact that the Arab League had called for such a zone had led to a “sea-change” in thinking.

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