Coalition on track to set up Nato control of Libya mission

London has persistently argued for Nato to take control of the mission
London has persistently argued for Nato to take control of the mission

By Ian Dunt

A fundamental split in the military coalition was nearly resolved today, as Paris agreed to let Nato take over the Libya operation.

London has been pushing for Nato control for several days now, in a bid to help America rid itself of its command status.

But French president Nicolas Sarkozy wanted the operation to go under joint British-French control.

A series of phone calls from Barack Obama appeared to resolve the dispute last night, with the Élysée Palace releasing a statement confirming the plan.

"The two presidents have come to an agreement on the way to use the command structures of Nato to support the coalition," it read.

Downing Street was more cautious, with the prime minister's spokesman saying: "The prime minister and president... agreed that good progress had been made in Nato on command and control of military operations, that Nato should play a key role in the command structure going forward and that these arrangements now needed to be finalised."

The plan now has to be put to the council, which will soon hold its third ambassadorial-level meeting in as many days. All 28 members have to agree for the change to take place.

Political oversight would be handed to a separate body which includes Arab countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, according to media reports.

Washington continues to adopt a cautious approach to the ongoing conflict, with President Obama enjoying sporting photo opportunities on a Latin American tour while secretary of state Hillary Clinton conducts the hard diplomatic work.

Ms Clinton told ABC News that Muammar Gaddafi's allies are reaching out to their international contacts as they struggle to flee from his government.

It is not clear whether the statement is accurate or part of a psychological campaign to destabilise the regime.

Colonel Gaddafi appeared in public for the first time in several days last night, addressing around 200 people in Tripoli with a bitter speech which saw him assure his supporters of ultimate victory.

"All Islamic armies must take part in the battle, all free [people] must take party in the battle," he said.

"In the short term, we will beat them. In the long term, we will beat them.

"I do not fear storms that sweep the horizon, nor do I fear the planes that throw black destruction. I am resistant, my house is here in my tent.

"I am the rightful owner, and the creator of tomorrow. I am here. I am here. I am here."
Col Gaddafi's forces continued to attack Misrata, a rebel-held city in the west of the country.

After weeks of siege, supplies of water, food and medicine are understood to be running low. Western forces will be desperate for the city to hold out, as one of the rare rebel-held areas in the west of the country, to avoid the looming possibility of a divided Libya


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