NATO Claims Unity on Libya Operation as Russia Questions Military Actions

NATO countries sought to bridge differences over their Libya mission as Russia said the alliance’s actions may be exceeding those authorized by the UN Security Council.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers today in Berlin that he’s confident his request for additional ground-attack aircraft will be met, even though the U.S. and France rejected deploying more planes.

“We have got indications that nations will deliver what is needed,” said Rasmussen, without identifying which countries or confirming reports that the request is for about eight warplanes to attack Muammar Qaddafi’s forces.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders “are now realizing that this is not a very short mission,” German Deputy Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer said in an interview today. “It takes much longer, it’s much more complicated, it’s much more demanding than some had expected.”

NATO’s Libya operations may become “stuck in the sand,” Hoyer said, adding that it would be “a nightmare” if Qaddafi remains in control of a divided and failed state. Germany is one of the NATO members opposed to the military campaign, although it supports economic and political measures to force Qaddafi out of power.

‘Solid and Sustainable’

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the NATO consensus on the goals for Libya is “solid and sustainable” and that “we all need to be a bit patient.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, challenging the extent of the military operations, said that NATO must move “urgently” toward a political solution. In Berlin to participate in talks with NATO foreign ministers, he said that “using excessive military force will lead to additional casualties among civilians.”

Oil rebounded as U.S. consumer sentiment and industrial output increased, signaling higher fuel demand in the world’s biggest crude-consuming country. Crude oil for May delivery increased $1.50, or 1.4 percent, to $109.61 a barrel at 1:33 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Regional Developments

Elsewhere in the region, Syrian security forces blocked roads to thwart protesters whose defiance of President Bashar al-Assad persisted for a fifth Friday, following the announcement late yesterday of Cabinet changes, activists said. Routes to the Damascus suburbs of Douma and Harasta were blocked by vans and concrete blocks, as thousands took to the streets, Damascus-based human-rights activist Razan Zaitouneh said on her Facebook page. There were rallies in Homs, Aleppo, Qamishli, the port city of Latakia and Daraa, a flashpoint for dissent last month, she said.

Clashes between protesters and authorities in Jordan left 83 security officers and eight civilians injured, Al Arabiya television reported, citing the country’s head of general security. In Yemen, protesters around the country rejected a Gulf Cooperation Council plan to resolve political turmoil because it doesn’t insist on President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s immediate departure.

In Libya, the limitations of NATO’s air campaign have become evident as forces loyal to Qaddafi stepped up their assault on Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city, and pressed their attack on rebels near the oil port city of Brega.

Misrata Bombarded

Al-Jazeera television cited rebels as saying 20 people, including five Egyptians, were killed in Misrata last night by Qaddafi troops and that tanks bombarded the city today near the Kasr Ahmed district. More than 6,500 foreign nationals are stranded at Misrata’s port, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in an e-mailed statement.

Foreign ministers from NATO’s 28 member states and leaders from other allied nations met in Berlin to discuss the Libyan conflict.

On providing more assistance to rebels, including military aid, Clinton said “there have been a number of discussions on how to best provide that assistance.”

“We are also searching for ways to provide funding for the opposition so that that they can take care of some of these needs themselves,” including helping the rebels sell oil, she said. The rebels are seeking to borrow $2 billion secured by Libyan government assets abroad that have been frozen.

Only 14 NATO members -- plus Sweden, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates -- are participating in some aspect of the military operation known as “Unified Protector,” most under rules preventing them from attacking Qaddafi’s forces except in self-defense. About five NATO nations, led by France and the U.K, are known to be targeting Qaddafi’s ground forces.

U.S. Role Limited

The call for more warplanes, which Rasmussen said wasn’t directed at a specific alliance member, came 10 days after the U.S. withdrew its ground-attack planes from civilian protection missions. The U.S. continues to fly F-16 missions against Libya’s dwindling air defenses, as well as providing a variety of support aircraft for refueling, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

Libya is “Europe’s affair” and it’s understandable that the U.S. isn’t playing a leading role, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said in an interview on LCI Television. “The U.S. has two large obligations with Iraq and Afghanistan.”

President Barack Obama, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy jointly declared in a statement published today that allowing Qaddafi to remain in power “would be an unconscionable betrayal.”

The three leaders said that while the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing military action to protect civilians doesn’t include overthrowing Qaddafi, “it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi in power.”

Pressure Qaddafi Regime

“So long as Qaddafi is in power, NATO and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds,” they wrote in a letter published in newspapers, including the Times of London, Le Figaro and the International Herald Tribune.

NATO said in a statement yesterday that allies taking part in the conflict set three conditions for ending air strikes on Qaddafi’s forces: an end to all attacks by Qaddafi loyalists on civilians, withdrawing soldiers to bases, and allowing aid into the country.

NATO said in a statement that its jets yesterday hit eight bunkers, four ammunition storage sites, and two armored personnel carriers near Sirte; three bunkers and a helicopter near Misrata; an SA-3 radar and SA-3 missile launcher near the Tunisian border; and a tank, two ammunition storage sites and a radar near Tripoli. NATO said it flew 60 missions looking for possible ground-attack targets, up from 58 on April 13.

To contact the reporters on this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson in Berlin at fjackson@bloomberg.net; Patrick Donahue in Berlin at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net; Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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