European leaders squabble over who's in charge on Libya

French President Sarkozy has been at odds with most European leaders on the question of what leadership role NATO should have in Libya.

By , Staff writer

Europe is fully on board," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy after today's meeting in Brussels where NATO took command of the Libyan no-fly zone. "There is no problem.”

But the NATO decision disappointed France, which has been at odds with most of NATO over the alliance's role in Libya. Mr. Sarkozy has opposed giving NATO command of even the no-fly zone, while other allies have pushed for NATO to control the entire action.

“The use of NATO structures is not a problem,” said Sarkozy, seeming to put to rest the squabbles. But then Sarkozy also said, "It would be playing into the hands of Colonel Qaddafi to say NATO is taking over,” adding, "NATO cannot swallow the United Arab Emirates and Qatar."

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Huh?

No wonder there will be a special conference in London Tuesday to finalize the details on Operation Odyssey Dawn, which has just concluded its first week of using "all necessary means” to protect civilians in Libya.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said he jogged in a Brussels park Friday morning with Sarkozy and has said from the start that all operations on Libya will be handled by NATO, said, “Europe has really come together on Libya," and remarked that the coalition has accomplished a great deal in a short time.

He repeated his desire that Qaddafi “leave" and accused Qaddafi of “lying” to the international community when, on the verge of taking Benghazi last week, was “breaching a cease-fire that he announced." Mr. Cameron urged those in Qaddafi circles to cease supporting him. “Don’t obey his orders, walk away from your tanks.”

The Americans who helped launch the operation visibly struggled this week to hand off responsibility to a coherent coalition. They have done so, following negotiations by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and are in a de facto three-way command with the French and the British.

The Canadian defense ministry said today that the overall commander of Odyssey Dawn will be a Canadian three-star general, Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, now stationed in Naples, Italy, at the Allied Joint Command.

The London meeting will need to clarify command and control of the two main types of military operations in Libya – the no-fly zone and the more sensitive and fraught “no-drive” zone, which also intends to protect civilians, but requires sensitive decisions about what kind of airstrikes can or can’t be conducted.

Sarkozy has been one of the most important spurs in the Libyan venture. He helped to tip the scales in favor of intervention with a reluctant White House, stopping a potential bloodbath in Benghazi. By some accounts, those strikes would not have happened without French diplomacy.

But Sarkozy hoped for a layer of formal French and British control that would include Arab allies like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, whose government today pledged 12 fighter jets for Operation Odyssey Dawn.

For Turkey, a French command was a nonstarter, and tensions between Paris and Ankara grew sharply in the past week. Now, it appears Turkish airbases will host a contingent of aircraft for the week-old operation.

Germany, which abstained from the UN Security Council vote to protect Libyan civilians by “all necessary measure,” has been split over the decision to remain firmly on the sidelines and has also been unhappy with Sarkozy as a lead figure.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle today blasted comments by Sarkozy on Thursday night, calling them dangerous. The French president, apparently on a talking spree, issued a warning against “all leaders, and all Arab leaders in particular” not to use violence against civilians, since “the reaction of the international community will be the same every time."

RELATED: Libya timeline – NATO now commands no-fly zone

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