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France proposes high-level “political steering committee” to run Libya war

Following two days of intensive discussions in Brussels, NATO has agreed to support — but not command — operations in Libya. Meanwhile, France has proposed a high-level international "political steering committee" to actually run the war. But does the Obama administration support that idea? "NATO has now decided to launch an operation to enforce the ...

Following two days of intensive discussions in Brussels, NATO has agreed to support -- but not command -- operations in Libya. Meanwhile, France has proposed a high-level international "political steering committee" to actually run the war. But does the Obama administration support that idea?

"NATO has now decided to launch an operation to enforce the arms embargo against Libya," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement from Brussels on Tuesday evening. He said U.S. Admiral James Stavridis was activating NATO ships and aircraft to "monitor, report and, if needed, interdict vessels suspected of carrying illegal arms or mercenaries."

NATO has also "completed plans to help enforce the no-fly zone" that will be brought into force "if needed, in a clearly defined manner," to support the effort to protect the Libyan people," Rasmussen said.

Following two days of intensive discussions in Brussels, NATO has agreed to support — but not command — operations in Libya. Meanwhile, France has proposed a high-level international "political steering committee" to actually run the war. But does the Obama administration support that idea?

"NATO has now decided to launch an operation to enforce the arms embargo against Libya," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement from Brussels on Tuesday evening. He said U.S. Admiral James Stavridis was activating NATO ships and aircraft to "monitor, report and, if needed, interdict vessels suspected of carrying illegal arms or mercenaries."

NATO has also "completed plans to help enforce the no-fly zone" that will be brought into force "if needed, in a clearly defined manner," to support the effort to protect the Libyan people," Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen didn’t say whether NATO would perform the command-and-control function of the no-fly zone, something that Turkey has objected to because the "all necessary measures" language of Security Council Resolution 1973 includes the bombing of Libya. France objected to NATO being in command of the war operations on a day-to-day basis and has now proposed a new "political steering committee," made up of foreign ministers from the United States, European, and Arab states, to oversee the war.

A French diplomat told The Cable that the details of the proposal would be worked out over the next few days. "It was always understood that there would be two stages of operations. The one that started on Saturday and a second phase in which NATO would play a role," the French diplomat said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé announced on Tuesday that the British are in agreement with the proposal but the French government has not said anything about the position of the Obama administration.

So is the Obama administration on board? White House spokesman Tommy Vietor did not respond to a request for comment on the French proposal. Obama spoke with Sarkozy Tuesday and "the two Presidents agreed on the means of using NATO’s command structures to support the coalition," the French government said in a read out.

It’s not clear how the French steering committee would be in operational control of the war, but the proposal includes that the committee would be in charge of the "strategic decisions" involving military action, the diplomat said.

If enacted, the proposal would allow President Barack Obama to fulfill his pledge to transfer leadership of the war out of American hands within "a matter of days," as he said Monday.

The French position is that the steering committee idea would allow NATO to bring its military capabilities to bear without putting an exclusively Western label on the military intervention. Qaddafi has called the campaign a "colonial crusade" by western nations.

"The only constraint is that we need to keep the Arabs involved," the French diplomat said. "In order to do that we need to use NATO capabilities and we need to [provide so that] Arab countries stay involved."

The NATO meetings on Monday were contentious. The French and German representatives reportedly stormed out of the meeting, albeit for very different reasons. France was upset at Rasmussen for openly criticizing France in the meeting and questioning their reliability as an ally. Germany is opposed to the military intervention altogether.

"We do not want to be sucked into a position of eventually seeing German soldiers fighting in Libya," Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said.

"There was confusion yesterday but we are safely now going in the right direction," the French diplomat reported.

Our sources also report that Washington has made it clear that they want to see the transfer of leadership for the Libya mission leave U.S. hands by the end of the week. Whether the Obama administration and the Defense Department are comfortable with a French led international steering committee making decisions about the actions of U.S. military forces remains to be seen.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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