EU ups Libya sanctions; decides against air strikes

European Union stops short of calling for "no-fly" zone; "problem has a name: Gaddafi. He must go," European Commission president says.

European Union leaders Sarkozy, Merkel 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Thierry Roge)
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.
The 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 work with".
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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 down."
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 vocal support.
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 civilians.
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East
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 Libyan assets.
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.