NATO’s chief said that the end of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s regime may be only weeks away and that the United Nations should take the lead in coordinating the North African nation’s “long and complex” transition to a democratic state.
Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen cited “clear progress” in ending Qaddafi’s 42-year rule and said allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will continue their campaign as long as necessary. Still, he said, world leaders and Libyan rebels must begin planning for the situation after the regime’s downfall.
“Qaddafi is history,” Rasmussen told reporters yesterday in Brussels at a meeting of defense ministers from the 28-member alliance. “It may take weeks, but it could happen tomorrow -- and when he goes, the international community has to be ready.”
“The management of the aftermath -- whenever and however it occurs -- will be a complex issue for the whole international community to address,” British Defense Minister Liam Fox said.
Foreign ministers from the 22-nation Libya Contact Group meet today in Abu Dhabi to discuss their support for the Libyan opposition and the outlook after Qaddafi.
For the third meeting of the contact group, the oil-rich United Arab Emirates is recruiting more Arab support for the NATO-enforced air campaign, according to U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. The U.A.E. and Qatar were the first Arab nations to take part in the UN-authorized no-fly zone over Libya.
Discussions will deepen on what NATO allies envision for a post-Qaddafi Libya, including whether he and his family may stay in the North African country, according to senior administration officials. Regarding exile, there are no specific offers on the table, the officials said.
The escalation of NATO’s campaign was underscored June 7 by a daytime bombardment of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and targets in and around Qaddafi’s compound. Daylight strikes continued in the capital yesterday, the Associated Press reported.
Targets on June 7 included five command-and-control centers in Tripoli, NATO said. British Tornado and Typhoon warplanes participated in a strike on a military vehicle depot within Qaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziyah complex, Major General Nick Pope, a U.K. military spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
The intensification comes as rebels, who control the country’s east, make gains and the Libyan leader faces a series of high-level defections.
Oil rose to a one-week high in New York after OPEC failed to reach an agreement on production targets for the first time in at least 20 years at its meeting in Vienna today. Crude oil for July delivery rose $1.65 to $100.74 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest settlement since May 31. Prices are up 40 percent in the past year.
Rasmussen said that NATO would take a back seat in any post-Qaddafi transition process and that the alliance expects the UN to take the lead in Libya after Qaddafi leaves power. He said the rebels’ National Transitional Council must guarantee a peaceful change.
The rebels have a “big responsibility to ensure that the transition to democracy will take place in a peaceful and orderly fashion,” the NATO secretary general said. He repeated that the alliance had no intention of deploying ground troops in Libya.
Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister, said NATO allies have the necessary resources to carry out the mission. The alliance this week added British and French attack helicopters to its arsenal.
NATO is pressing members including Spain and Poland to step up their efforts in Libya and for more allied nations to join as the alliance extends the military campaign.
“NATO has raised the pressure on Libya enormously,” Jan Techau, head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels, said in an interview. “The shift to using NATO helicopters and warplanes flying daytime air strikes shows how confident the alliance has become.”
Air strikes in Libya in the past month have pushed Qaddafi loyalists out of the western port city of Misrata and aided some rebel gains in the Berber highlands in the west. Rebels this week said they seized control of the western town of Yefren.
Defections from Qaddafi’s regime include generals, two colonels and a major who switched to rebel forces at the end of May, bringing the total number of army officers who have left Qaddafi to 120, Libya’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Abdel Rahman Shalgham, said on May 30.
Qaddafi, speaking publicly on June 7 for the first time in three weeks, following strikes in Tripoli, expressed defiance in an audio broadcast on state television.
“We are stronger than their missiles, stronger than their planes,” Qaddafi said, as NATO warplanes increasingly focus their attacks on the capital.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates participated in his final meeting with NATO colleagues before leaving office this month. The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing today for President Barack Obama’s nominee to succeed Gates, Central Intelligence Agency director Leon Panetta.
Even as NATO intensified its campaign, U.S. lawmakers moved yesterday to curtail their country’s involvement. A bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution requiring the Obama administration to provide detailed justification of U.S. operations in Libya.
The resolution, put forward by Virginia Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat who served as President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Navy, and Tennessee Republican Senator Robert Corker, would also prohibit the deployment of U.S. ground troops in Libya.
It also calls on Obama to ask Congress to authorize continued U.S. involvement in the north African country.
Describing the president’s move to order military action in Libya as “a very troubling historical precedent,” Webb said Obama had failed to provide a compelling rationale for getting involved. In a March speech, the president said that “our conscience and our common interests” in fundamental human rights drove the U.S. to intervene in Libya.