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NATO Struggles With Course Of Action In Libya

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said regime change in Libya is outside NATO's military mandate during a meeting of NATO foreign ministers Thursday in Berlin.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said regime change in Libya is outside NATO's military mandate during a meeting of NATO foreign ministers Thursday in Berlin.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told NATO allies Thursday that the U.S. is prepared to do what it takes to support the air campaign against Libya, as disagreement continued over the scope of the mission and who should lead it.

"We are contributing in many ways to see that goal realized," said Clinton, who was in Berlin for two days of NATO meetings.

The secretary of state urged the alliance to step up pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, emphasizing that its members share the same goal of seeing Gadhafi's regime end. But she also said that regime change was outside NATO's military mandate.

In public, foreign ministers from NATO's 28 member countries are likely to talk of a unified approach to Libya. But French and British officials have expressed frustration over the pace of the operation, saying NATO should be more aggressive in its targeting. They also say some members of the alliance should contribute more assets and urged the U.S. to take a bigger role in the NATO mission.

The Obama administration has insisted that the U.S. will stick to its plan to remain in a supporting role.

U.S. officials said Clinton would use Thursday's meetings to stress the importance of using NATO military assets to target pro-Gadhafi fighters attacking or approaching rebel-held positions and to increase economic and political pressure on Gadhafi.

Clinton did not say whether the U.S. 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," Clinton said. "Gadhafi is testing our determination."

In his opening remarks at the Berlin conference, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance and its partners were "fully engaged" and that the operation was maintaining "a high operational tempo."

But France was pushing other countries at the meeting to work "on more robust, more efficient, more rapid actions," according to French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero in Paris.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe struck a diplomatic tone as he met with his German counterpart, seeking to downplay differences and stressing the importance of an eventual political solution.

"In reality, we have the same objective ... to allow the Libyan people to enjoy democratic freedom," Juppe said, adding, "There is no future in Libya with Gadhafi."

Italy — Libya's former colonial ruler — has proposed that Western powers supply Libyan rebels with defensive weapons, but Juppe said "France is not in this frame of mind."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said his country is in agreement with France and others that Gadhafi must go, but he stressed the use of economic sanctions.

The divisions within the alliance have been evident since the operation in Libya began nearly a month ago, but stark warnings emanating from Misurata — the lone rebel stronghold in western Libya — in recent days have intensified and focused the debate.

A rebel spokesman said Thursday that there would be a massacre in the city unless NATO did something to stop attacks by government troops.

Clinton has acknowledged that the U.S. had received disturbing reports that Gadhafi's militias and mercenaries had fired mortar and artillery rounds into residential areas in Misurata, where thousands have been forced to flee their homes.

In a statement Wednesday, Clinton said the regime reportedly has destroyed food warehouses in Misurata and cut off water and power in an apparent attempt to starve the people into submission. She said snipers have targeted people seeking medical attention and were promising to attack humanitarian aid shipments to the city.

Clinton said the U.S. is documenting atrocities committed by Gadhafi's forces so that those responsible can be held accountable.

NPR's Eric Westervelt reported from Berlin for this story, which contains material from The Associated Press.

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