UK 'in line' with allies over Libya
Foreign Secretary William Hague has denied that the Government is out of step with key British allies over Libya after the US defence secretary warned against "loose talk" about military intervention.
Mr Hague said the UK was "absolutely in a line" with the United States and France on the possible imposition of a military no-fly zone. However, he was also forced to play down claims of a Cabinet rift over the Government's approach after Education Secretary Michael Gove was reported to have launched a fierce attack on his handling of the issue.
Following talks in Paris with his French counterpart, Alain Juppe, Mr Hague said Britain, France and the US were working closely together on contingency planning for options such as a no-fly zone.
"We are not proposing a no-fly zone at the moment, we are simply proposing the planning of that," he said. "None of these options are pain-free or simple but, as the Prime Minister has said, if people were being attacked in huge numbers, then it is unlikely the world will just stand idly by."
Following their talks, Mr Juppe agreed that mass attacks on the civilian population would "unacceptable".
"Obviously Gaddafi's regime's threat to bomb the civilian population and cities is unacceptable and would be criminal and so we have to prevent such an event," he said.
David Cameron has been a vocal advocate of the need to prepare for a no-fly zone in case Colonel Muammar Gaddafi stepped up the brutal suppression of the popular uprising against his rule, but his comments have so far met with only a lukewarm response from other Western capitals.
US defence secretary Robert Gates complained openly about the "loose talk" over the possible military options, telling a congressional committee: "Let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defences. That's the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that's the way it starts."
He said that enforcing a no-fly zone would require more aircraft than could be carried by a single aircraft carrier, adding that Libya was "a big country".
Mr Hague also tried to shrug off reports which had forcefully criticised the Foreign Office in Cabinet over its failure to foresee the explosion of popular discontent in the Arab world. He was said to have argued that Britain should face down dictators and act as a beacon for free and democratic countries, according to one report.