NATO struggles to resolve dispute over Libya fight

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to the media before meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin on Thursday, April 14, 2011. Mrs. Clinton is in Berlin to attend a two-day  meeting of NATO foreign ministers. (AP Photo/Saul Loeb, Pool)Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to the media before meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin on Thursday, April 14, 2011. Mrs. Clinton is in Berlin to attend a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers. (AP Photo/Saul Loeb, Pool)
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BERLIN (AP) — NATO nations struggled Thursday to overcome deep differences over the military campaign in Libya, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton calling for unity in the face of French and British calls for other countries to help more with attacks on Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s ground forces.

Alliance members agreed that Col. Gadhafi must leave power but insisted the military mission remain focused on its declared goals of enforcing an arms embargo, protecting civilians and forcing the withdrawal of Gadhafi forces from cities they have entered.

The limitations of NATO’s aims have been tested by the Libyan rebels’ inability to make progress against Col. Gadhafi’s stronger and better organized forces, who have camouflaged themselves and hidden in populated areas to avoid Western airstrikes now in their third week.

As a result, Britain and France have been calling for more strikes by their NATO allies, particularly the United States, with its sophisticated surveillance and weapons systems. The United States says it sees no need to change what has become a supporting role in the campaign, and many other NATO nations have rules preventing them from striking Col. Gadhafi’s forces except in self-defense.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance’s foreign ministers had endorsed a statement calling for Col. Gadhafi to leave power, and they remained committed to completing the mission there despite the recent divisions.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe (left) and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle leave after a bilateral conference before an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin on Thursday, April 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Markus Schreib

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Mr. Fogh Rasmussen said NATO needed more aircraft to attack Col. Gadhafi’s forces in populated areas.

“To avoid civilian casualties, we need very sophisticated equipment, so we need a few more precision fighter ground-attack aircraft for air-to-ground missions,” he said. “I don’t have specific pledges or promises from this meeting, but I heard indications that gave me hope.”

Mrs. Clinton did not say whether the United States would send more ground attack craft, but she appealed to the other NATO foreign ministers for unity over the Libyan campaign.

“As our mission continues, maintaining our resolve and unity only grows more important,” Mrs. Clinton said. “Gadhafi is testing our determination.”

NATO’s 28 members are “sharing the same goal, which is to see the end of the Gadhafi regime in Libya,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We must also intensify our political, diplomatic and economic mission to pressure and isolate Gadhafi and bring about his departure.”

She said, however, that regime change was outside NATO’s military mandate.

France, which pushed NATO to launch the Libyan campaign, now is pushing other countries at the meeting to work “on more robust, more efficient, more rapid actions,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in Paris.

The Pentagon noted that Americans have flown 35 percent of all air missions over the past 10 days. Mr. Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance is keeping up “a high operational tempo,” he added.

One proposal from Italy, Libya’s former colonial ruler, calls for the Western powers to provide defensive weapons to rebels. Mrs. Clinton didn’t comment on that plan but said the world must “deepen our engagement with and increase our support for” the Libyan opposition.

“In reality, we have the same objective: This objective is to allow the Libyan people to enjoy democratic freedom,” said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. “There will not be a military solution to the problem; there can only be a political solution.”

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