BRUSSELS — NATO’s main decision-making body holds an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss Libya’s unrest, and the alliance may discuss deploying ships and surveillance aircraft to the Mediterranean, officials said.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who chairs meetings of the North Atlantic Council, has said the alliance does not intend to intervene in Libya, that it has received no such requests to do that, and that such an action would require a U.N. mandate.
The council consists of ambassadors from NATO’s 28 member states.
The U.N. Security Council also will meet Friday in New York to consider actions against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s regime. These could include sanctions aimed at deterring his violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrations.
Thousands of foreign citizens are fleeing the North African country, and NATO’s naval and air forces may be asked to assist them. There also have been isolated calls for NATO ground forces to help evacuate foreigners stranded by the fighting.
Before the North Atlantic Council meeting began Friday afternoon, Spain said it will propose that NATO deploy radar-equipped surveillance aircraft known as known as AWACS off Libya’s coast to monitor the situation.
Defense Minister Carme Chacon told reporters in Madrid that the goal would be “to know what is happening in the country.” She said Spain also will suggest that NATO deploy its ships off the North African country’s coast.
NATO already has a naval force in the Mediterranean Sea, known as Active Endeavor, that monitors shipping to protect it from terrorist activity.
Earlier Friday, Fogh Rasmussen attended a meeting of European Union defense ministers in Budapest, Hungary, and said: “What’s happening in Libya is of great concern to us. This crisis in our immediate neighborhood affects Libyan civilians and many people from NATO allies.” He said, “Many countries are evacuating their citizens. Clearly this is a massive challenge.”
Fogh Rasmussen said the priority is to assist the evacuations and provide humanitarian assistance, adding that NATO could act as an “enabler and coordinator” of the repatriations, if individual member states asked for such support.
NATO envoys in Brussels said they did not expect to discuss the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. Any such action — intended to prevent attacks by government jets and helicopter gunships against pro-democracy protesters — would have to be sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council, they said.
But French diplomats appeared skeptical about the need to convene the emergency North Atlantic Council.
“France, which with the British has already called for a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, does not see the need ... for a NATO meeting about Libya,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters. “There are still a lot of foreign citizens there. Therefore we must be careful.”