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Anger at US dithering over Libyan no-fly zone

By Nigel Morris

Tensions were building between London and Washington last night over President Barack Obama's apparent equivocation about whether to back plans to impose a no-fly zone on Libya.

Impatience is growing over the conflicting signals coming out of the White House.

The US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has condemned “loose talk” over no-fly zones, while the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has struck a more supportive note. The president is said to be “reviewing the options”.

It led Britain, in alliance with France and Lebanon, to try to force the issue by tabling the joint resolution that was being considered last night by the United Nations Security Council. The three countries were yesterday still waiting for a signal from the US over whether it supports the move.

President Nicholas Sarkozy of France wrote to all the government leaders of the Security Council members exhorting approval of the no-fly zone provisions in the resolution.

“Together, let's save the martyred Libyan people! It is now a matter of days, even hours,” he wrote.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, indicated last night at the closed-door meeting that any agreement to impose no-fly zones over Libya may not be enough and that additional military intervention might be necessary including airstrikes on tank columns.

The gravity of the proposals was still giving many members pause and some diplomats warned that a resolution may yet emerge with all military provisions stripped from it.

David Cameron briefly displayed his frustration in the Commons yesterday over the diplomatic delays as Muammar Gaddafi's forces seize back land held by the rebel forces. He said: “Of course there are a wide range of views in the UN. But I would urge others to take the right steps so that actually we show some leadership on this issue and make sure we get rid of this regime.”

The senior Senate Republican, Lindsey Graham, said: “If he does not act decisively in Libya, I believe history will show that the Obama administration owned the results of the Gaddafi regime from 2011 forward,” he said.

Before the Security Council meeting, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, rejected suggestions that the new resolution had “zero chance” of success.

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