DOHA, (Reuters) – Britain wants NATO to have a more powerful strike force in Libya but whether the alliance steps up attacks will depend on what Muammar Gaddafi’s forces do, Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
Interviewed by Reuters on his way to Wednesday’s international meeting on the Libyan crisis in Qatar, Hague called for intensified sanctions on the Libyan government and for a clear statement that Gaddafi must go.
The Doha meeting also will discuss ways for countries to give money to meet essential needs in opposition-held areas of Libya, Hague said on board a Doha-bound plane late on Tuesday.
“We have sent more ground strike aircraft in order to protect civilians. We do look to other countries to do the same, if necessary, over time,” Hague said.
“We would like a continued increase in our (NATO’s) capability to protect civilians in Libya,” he added.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Tuesday that NATO should do more to destroy Gaddafi’s heavy weapons. Libyan rebels also have said the alliance is not doing enough.
The United States, which initially played a leading role in enforcing the no-fly zone, has withdrawn from ground strikes on Gaddafi’s forces while several European allies, such as Italy, put restrictions on the use of their warplanes in Libya.
Britain would like more NATO countries involved to be able to strike targets on the ground, a government source said.
EX-MINISTER TO MEET REBELS
Whether NATO ratcheted up operations depended on what happened on the ground, Hague said.
“These air strikes are a response to movements of, or attacks from, regime forces so what happens will be dependent on that,” he said.
Whether the Americans could again be asked to step up their role would also “depend on the circumstances,” he added.
Moussa Koussa, a former Libyan foreign minister who fled to Britain last month, also travelled to Doha to meet Libyan rebels on the sidelines of the meeting of the international contact group on Libya.
Scottish police questioned the former spy chief over the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing, which killed 270 people, but Britain said on Tuesday he was free to travel, drawing criticism from Pamela Dix, whose brother Peter died in the blast.
Hague defended the move, saying “if someone is not under arrest then of course they are free to move around.”
He said there was “every possibility” of Koussa returning to Britain after the Doha meeting.
Hague insisted that the Libyan military operation would not distract Britain’s 11-month-old coalition government from its main goal of cutting a record peacetime budget deficit.
“It doesn’t make any difference to that at all,” he said.
He said the Libyan conflict had not changed his view of a British strategic defence review last year which led to sharp cuts in military personnel and equipment.
The cuts left Britain without an aircraft carrier capable of carrying combat jets that some politicians and former commanders say would have been useful in dealing with the Libyan crisis.
“This doesn’t change the strategic defence review. We are not revisiting any of the major decisions of the strategic defence review. Of course there are adjustments year to year as we go along,” Hague said.