European Union leaders Sarkozy, Merkel 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Thierry Roge)
BRUSSELS - European
Union leaders agreed on Friday to consider all options to try to force
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to step down, but stopped short of
endorsing air strikes, a no-fly zone or other military-backed means.
27 EU leaders, meeting in Brussels, also gave encouragement to the
rebel administration based in Benghazi, endorsing the Libyan National
Council as "a political interlocutor" that was "sufficiently reliable to
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A statement demanded Gaddafi step down immediately and EU leaders said talks with the rebel movement were under way.
"The problem has a name: Gaddafi. He must go," European Commission
President Jose Manuel Barroso told a news conference. "We have to
intensify our international pressure on the current regime to step
However, the leaders did not back a call by French President Nicolas
Sarkozy to follow his example and fully recognize the rebels fighting to
overthrow Gaddafi, leaving a gap between their rhetoric and the actions
they are prepared to take to give the opposition movement more than
They also sidestepped a British and French initiative for a United
Nations Security Council resolution that would authorize a no-fly zone
over Libya and Sarkozy's call for "defensive" air strikes against
Gaddafi's forces if they used chemical weapons or warplanes against
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news briefing the leaders agreed
to set up a three-way summit with the African Union and the Arab League
to discuss the crisis.
"We want to work hand-in-hand with all the regional organizations and we
also of course expect these regional organizations to make their
contribution," she said.
Merkel said the European Union would look at imposing more sanctions on
Libya, especially in the financial and economic area, to make it clear
Gaddafi had no international support.
The EU has already imposed sanctions on the Libyan Investment Authority,
the central bank, three other financial institutions and 27 people
including Gaddafi. Britain said it alone had frozen $19 billion of
A "no-fly" zone was all but scotched by NATO defence ministers on
Thursday, with officials saying it would only happen if there was a
demonstrable need, a clear legal basis and firm backing in the region,
not all of which currently exists.
German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said flatly that the
situation in Libya was "not the basis for any kind of military
intervention by NATO".
"The issue needs to be resolved in Libya and the region ... Military
actions need to be thought out. We cannot get ourselves into something
which we later are not convinced about and which cannot be pushed
through," he told reporters.
An EU diplomat said foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had urged
caution on a no-fly zone, saying it was not an option she thought EU
leaders should be discussing.
Officials said the agreement of the Arab League would have to be secured
before Europe could take any such strong action. The Arab League is
scheduled to meet in Cairo on Saturday.