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US Expects Wider Arab Role in Libya Coalition


An Italian air force Eurofighter Typhoon jet takes off from the Gioia del Colle air base near Bari, Southern Italy, March 22, 2011

An Italian air force Eurofighter Typhoon jet takes off from the Gioia del Colle air base near Bari, Southern Italy, March 22, 2011

A senior Obama administration official said Tuesday he expects more Arab countries to announce contributions to no-fly-zone enforcement over Libya in the next few days. He also said the United States will transition shortly into only a "supporting" role in the military operation.

Despite the Arab League endorsement of the no-fly zone, only Qatar has thus far tangibly contributed to the air operation.

But a senior Obama administration official who briefed reporters said he expects announcements of additional "concrete" Arab contributions in the next few days.

The official, who spoke on terms of anonymity, also said he expects, in the very near future, an agreement under which NATO will provide command and control for the coalition.

He said the United States, which led the opening phase of the military operation to neutralize Libya’s air defense system, will revert in the coming days to a "supporting role" in such tasks as jamming communications, aerial refueling and intelligence support.

The senior official spoke as diplomatic contacts continued among NATO members about the alliance role in enforcing UN Security Council Resolution 1973, setting up the no-fly zone to protect civilians from forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi.

The United States has made clear it wants to see NATO coordinate the broader enforcement operation that would include Arab League member countries and others.

President Obama himself led the lobbying effort with calls Tuesday to British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy as he continued his Latin American trip

At a news briefing, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said NATO is the logical coordinating body for the coalition.

"We have said that we believe NATO has certain command-and-control capabilities as the coalition moves forward, as we move into a different phase, that are indeed very useful," said Toner. "I know that discussions are going on via the North Atlantic Council. As you know that’s a forum for frank exchanges, candid exchanges, but they are confidential exchanges."

The senior administration official, who spoke in a conference call with State Department reporters, stressed that Resolution 1973 "is not about regime change" and that its implementation does not require the departure of Muammar Gadhafi.

At the same time he said a decision by Libyans about his future can only be made in an environment "free of violence and political oppression."

He said the U.S. view, which is widely shared in the world community, is that Mr. Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to lead and that a stable future for the country "requires a transition of leadership."

In other developments, the State Department announced that Turkey has agreed to become the United States’ "protecting power" in Libya - handling its diplomatic interests - given the closure of the U.S. embassy in Tripoli.

Meanwhile the Treasury Department announced U.S. sanctions against 14 affiliate firms of Libya’s National Oil Corporation in keeping with financial terms of Resolution 1973.

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