By Ian Dunt
William Hague has refused to rule out British action in Libya, even if the UN did not pass a resolution authorising it.
The UK was at the forefront of international efforts to secure tougher action today, even as the reality on the ground shifted to give Muammar Gaddafi the upper hand.
Many analysts are increasingly convinced that the regime's military success is making UN efforts to introduce a no-fly zone all but irrelevant, as forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi approach the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
But giving evidence to the foreign affairs select committee, Mr Hague refused to rule out the "doctrine of the duty to protect", which could see intervention without a UN resolution.
"It is on the table," he confirmed.
The foreign secretary insisted that David Cameron may have already saved lives in Libya by forcing the issue of a no-fly zone onto the international agenda.
"[The Libyans] are using air assets in their attempt to crush the rebellion and, we don't know this, but one can speculate that they have used those air assets so far in a particular way in order to avoid overwhelming international support for a no-fly zone, mass attacks on civilian locations and so on," he told the committee.
"So it is entirely possible that the prime minister, raising that possibility, has saved many lives so far."
London, Paris and Lebanon have led international efforts to get a no-fly zone fixed and increase sanctions on the regime, but the plans are thought to be opposed by Germany, Russia and China.
The security council met this afternoon after Britain tabled a new draft resolution on Libya yesterday evening.
The proposed resolution, prepared with the assistance of France, the US and Lebanon, includes a ban on all flights apart from humanitarian ones, an extension of the travel ban and asset freeze against members of the Gaddafi regime and tougher enforcement of the arms embargo.
"Of course there are a wide range of views in the UN," Mrd Cameron told MPs this lunchtime.
"I urge all to take the right steps so that we show some leadership on this issue and make sure that we can get rid of this regime."
He later acknowledged that a no-fly zones was not a "simple" answer to Libya's problems but added: "I do think that it is one of the steps we need to take to isolate and pressurise that regime, and to say that we stand with people in Libya, who want to have greater democracy and greater freedom, such as we take for granted in this country."
President Barack Obama has remained studiously quiet on the issue, forcing London to press ahead with the initiative in a bid to create momentum while America decides which course of action to support.
"We do not want to get sucked into a war in north Africa and we would not like to step on a slippery slope where we all are, at the end, in a war," German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said yesterday.
The UK-drafted resolution would ban commercial flights carrying in mercenaries and arms, establish a no-fly zone, add the names of specific people companies and entities to the sanctions list and set up an expert panel to assess implementation.
Col Gaddafi appeared on TV yesterday to blame the UK for the uprising in Libya.
"Britain no longer exists. It is a trace of what it used to be," he said.
"It has been promoting attack on Libya. Is there a common border between us? Are you our guardian? By what right?"
Meanwhile, four protestors climbed into the roof of the Libyan embassy in London and removed the green flag on its roof.
Reports from the eastern town of Brega suggest government forces are gaining control, although it is increasingly difficult to ascertain the situation. The town, which is just one settlement away from the rebel stronghold in Benghazi, has changed hands several times in recent days.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Office called on all Brits to leave Bahrain, where a three-month state of emergency was imposed following mass protests and the intervention of Saudi military forces.
Opposition leaders say the appearance of Saudi troops, sent to bolster the monarchy and the rule of the Sunni minority, was effectively an invasion.
Iran issued a stern warning to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, saying there would be "dangerous consequences" to the intervention.
But Mr Cameron has refused to be drawn on the issue and has offered little support to the Shia pro-democracy campaigners in Bahrain.
Washington and London's reticence when it comes to the tiny kingdom is in stark contrast to their belligerent rhetoric directed towards Libya. But both countries rely heavily on Saudi Arabia for oil and are unlikely to want to upset the regime there, which historically pays little attention to western lectures.
"Following an increase in protests over recent days, confrontations between protestors and police, and the intervention of security forces, we continue to advise British nationals currently in Bahrain to remain at home until further notice," the Foreign Office said.