BRUSSELS — The European Union's top foreign policy official brushed aside concerns March 21 that the coalition supporting military action against Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi is already starting to fracture, saying the head of the Arab League was misquoted as criticizing the operation.
NATO, meanwhile, was struggling with its own internal divisions, having been blocked so far by member Turkey from participating in enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya.
Support from the Arab League had been critical to international action against Gadhafi’s regime. But on Sunday, hours after the international operation began, the league’s chief was quoted as telling reporters in Cairo that it should not have included attacks on targets on the ground.
"What happened differs from the no-fly zone objectives," Amr Moussa was said. "What we want is civilians’ protection not shelling more civilians."
But EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Monday there had been a misunderstanding. She spoke on her way into a meeting of EU foreign ministers at which Libya will be discussed.
"Moussa was misquoted, as I understand it," she said. She did not specify her understanding of what Moussa actually said.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, however, offered Moussa’s comments as evidence that Germany’s decision not to participate in the operation had been justified.
"This does not mean that we are neutral," Westerwelle said on his way into the same meeting. "This does not mean that we have any sympathy with the dictator Gadhafi. It means that we see the risks, and when we listen closely to what the Arab League yesterday said, unfortunately we see that we had reasons for our concerns."
Westerwelle said Germany would focus on broadening economic and financial sanctions against the Gadhafi regime.
Late Sunday, NATO’s top decision-making body approved a military plan to implement the U.N. arms embargo on Libya. But so far it has failed to agree on a separate plan for the alliance to enforce the no-fly zone because of opposition from Turkey, which has vast business interests in the north African country.
Officials said the North Atlantic Council will discuss the no-fly plan when national envoys meet in Brussels on Monday, and may issue an order to alliance forces to implement it. The Council requires the consensus of all 28 member states to endorse such an order.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that Turkey has conditions for its support.
"NATO should only enter Libya to determine that Libya belongs to Libyans and not to distribute its natural resources and richness to others," Erdogan said, speaking in Saudi Arabia. And he said the operation must end without turning into an occupation.
A decision to participate would require the approval of all 28 NATO members.
Early Sunday, U.S. French and British planes began bombarding Libyan military targets with a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles and precision bombs. Late in the day, a cruise missile blasted Gadhafi’s residential compound.
A rebellion against Gadhafi’s 42-year rule broke out last month. Initially rebels made significant progress, but forces loyal to Gadhafi turned the tide and retook control of significant amounts of territory.