Whether he's the voice of reason or just spoiling the party, Germany's foreign minister is swimming against the tide when it comes to Libyan intervention. Guido Westerwelle repeats: there can be no military solution.
Westerwelle has stuck to his pacifist guns despite criticism
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has been something of a foil to his British and French counterparts throughout the Libyan conflict, urging restraint, diplomacy and patience at every turn.
As some European partners lobbied for increased military presence and more air raids to help rebel forces advance, Westerwelle told the international "contact group" that such measures would not resolve the conflict.
"Political processes are necessary now, we will not see a military solution in Libya," Westerwelle said on the sidelines of the meeting in Doha. "For that we need a dialogue. And a dialogue must primarily be organized and sustained by the affected parties in a country."
The foreign minister reiterated his view that Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi must step down, saying he had lost "all legitimacy."
"Germany is ready to support humanitarian action for the people of Libya," Westerwelle also said.
Westerwelle's stance remains unpopular with British and French allies, but received more support from other partners at the Libya contact group's inaugural meeting in Doha.
Westerwelle also said Gadhafi had lost all legitimacy
"There should be rapid political transition," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said. "Those working within the regime have a chance, they can continue to associate themselves with the brutal repression of colonel Gadhafi, or they can work towards an orderly transition to democracy."
At the beginning of Wednesday's talks, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also called for greater diplomatic investment in the conflict.
"Obviously, there can be no military solution," Rasmussen said. "So we have to initiate a political process."
Britain and France seek military support
The military conflict in Libya remains a stalemate, despite NATO air support for the rebel forces. Britain and France, responsible for most combat missions in Libya since the US took a back seat, argue that NATO needs to do more to help the rebels.
"There are many other nations around Europe and indeed Arab nations who are part of this coalition," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. "There is scope for some of them to move some of their aircraft from air defense into ground-strike capability."
NATO air raids have not had a decisive impact on the conflict
Most of the other NATO jets around Libya currently concentrate on enforcing the UN-mandated no-fly zone, the original mission that quickly spawned direct military intervention in the conflict.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on French television that NATO must "play its full role" in Libya.
"NATO wanted to take command of the military mission, and we accepted. But today [NATO] must play its part, which is preventing Gadhafi from using heavy weaponry to bombard the population," Juppe told France Info. He said besieged rebel-held towns like Misrata were currently facing such attacks.
Arming the rebels?
The Italian government, which has recognized the rebels as Libya's official political representatives, on Wednesday suggested providing weapons for the outgunned opposition.
Foreign ministry spokesman Maurizio Massari said the possibility of providing arms, especially communication and intelligence equipment, was "definitely on the table."
Rebel weaponry, while potent, is also rather primitive
"We need to provide the rebels all possible defensive means," Massari said, pointing out that the existing UN resolutions on Libya would not forbid such a move.
Belgium, however, ruled out this possibility, arguing in turn that Resolution 1973 does not authorize the supply of weapons to anyone in Libya.
"The UN resolution speaks about protecting civilians, not arming them," Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere said.
Funding the rebels?
Libya's interim national council, the political arm of the rebel movement, was also represented at the meeting in Doha.
The council has requested roughly a billion euros ($1.5 billion) for weapons and humanitarian aid, offering oil shipments in return.
An Italian official had earlier suggested routing Gadhafi assets frozen under the auspices of UN sanctions towards the rebel forces.
Germany's Westerwelle again voiced skepticism regarding this possible fund, saying such a move would first demand careful political and legal consideration.
"The question is, is it legal?" Westerwelle said to assembled reporters. "The answer is, we don't know. We need to see who the owners of the money are, and it's something we have to discuss."
Germany was one of five countries to abstain from a UN Security Council vote on militarily enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya last month, a decision that has polarized domestic and international observers.
Author: Mark Hallam (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Michael Lawton