Britain has welcomed an apparent change of heart by US President Barack Obama over sending warplanes to protect the Libyan population from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s air force ahead of a crucial vote in the United Nations.
The United States Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said last night that America was prepared to support the imposition of a no-fly zone as part of a “broad range of actions” to force the regime to stop the killing.
After days of stalling by the US over backing for a no-fly zone, diplomats said they were now talking of going even further – with airstrikes and the naval bombardment of Gaddafi’s forces to help the rebels.
Foreign Minister Alistair Burt said Britain hoped there would now be a vote later today in the United Nations Security Council in New York authorising action.
“The urgency of the situation is clear. It is the very urgency of the situation that makes it imperative that something is done and something today, ” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“There has been a significant change in the position of the White House.
They realise that something needs to be done beyond the isolation and the warnings that have already effectively been given by the international community.” Prime Minister David Cameron has been spearheading international calls for a no-fly zone and earlier this week Britain, France and Lebanon tabled a draft Security Council resolution authorising action.
The US administration had however been reluctant to give its backing to plan, amid fears that it could be dragged into messy conflict in another Muslim country at a time when they are still heavily committed in Afghanistan.
However, after eight hours of talks in the Security Council, Ms Rice said that America was now prepared to support a new resolution and would be working “very hard” for a vote today.
“We are interested in a broad range of actions that will effectively protect civilians and increase the pressure on the Gaddafi regime to halt the killing and to allow the Libyan people to express themselves in their aspirations for the future freely and peacefully,” she told reporters.
“The US view is that we need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include, but perhaps go beyond a no-fly zone, at this point, as the situation on the ground has evolved and as a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk.”
Diplomats said that Ms Rice had argued behind closed doors that they needed to go beyond a no-fly zone and give the international community all the tools it needed – including authorisation to use aircraft, ships or troops to stop the attacks by Col Gaddafi’s forces.
With Colonel Gaddafi’s forces now threatening the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, he said that it was essential to get a swift agreement. “Time is of the essence,” he said.