David Cameron, Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy upped the stakes in the Libya conflict last night as they vowed to fight on until Colonel Gaddafi is ousted.
In a joint article, the British, American and French leaders warned that it would be an ‘unconscionable betrayal’ were Nato to stop bombing with the dictator still in power.
Gaddafi must ‘go and go for good’ before rebuilding of the country could begin, they said, rejecting calls for an immediate ceasefire.
However the highly unusual joint statement did little to paper over behind-the-scenes bickering about how the military mission should advance.
It will also fuel the concerns of critics who say the aims of the conflict are becoming dangerously blurred.
French foreign minister Alain Juppe added to the confusion today when he said that air strikes alone would not topple Gaddafi .
He said: ‘In reality, we have the same objective – this objective is to allow the Libyan people to enjoy democratic freedom.
‘There will not be a military solution to the problem. There can only be a political solution. There is no future in Libya with Gaddafi.’
The commitment to maintain operations until Gaddafi leaves power is effectively open-ended.
Warplanes were again heard over Tripoli last night, accompanied by air raid sirens and loud explosions.
At the same time a figure resembling Gaddafi was seen driving through the streets in a heavily protected motorcade, standing up through the sunroof of a vehicle, punching the air.
As the military operation approaches the end of its first month there is little sign of a breakthrough on the ground, where rebels appear unable to make a decisive move against the government’s forces.
American and EU allies yesterday rejected British demands for more warplanes to take on Gaddafi – as rebels warned that failure to act would lead to a slaughter of innocents.
Britain and France were flatly rebuffed at a Nato conference when they demanded ground attack jets to help curb the tyrant’s troops.
A spokesman for the anti-Gaddafi forces besieged in the city of Misrata, the last rebel-held enclave in western Libya, warned of an impending ‘massacre’ unless Nato intervened more decisively.
At least eight people have died there in the latest round of shelling by Libyan soldiers according to a doctor, who said women and children were among the wounded.
But the Americans, Spanish and Italians all refused to step up and support the efforts of the RAF and the French air force. At a summit in Berlin, Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: ‘We need a few more precision fighters and ground attack aircraft.
‘I don’t have specific pledges or promises from this meeting.’
Despite President Obama’s intervention, a senior U.S. official made it clear that his administration had no intention of helping after it stepped back from combat operations last month.
‘As far as the U.S. is concerned, we have the forces that we need,’ the official said.
The summit was also divided about the prospect of arming rebels, despite indications that some Arab countries are willing to send weapons.
In their article – published in The Times, The Washington Post and Le Figaro – Mr Cameron, Mr Obama and Mr Sarkozy said: ‘It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government.
‘The brave citizens of those towns that have held out against forces that have been mercilessly targeting them would face a fearful vengeance if the world accepted such an arrangement.’
The leaders added: ‘So long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds… Britain, France and the United States will not rest until the UN Security Council resolutions have been implemented and the Libyan people can choose their own future.’
The leaders stopped short of explicitly declaring regime change as the goal of military action.
They insisted that the UN resolution authorised intervention to protect civilians.
And the leaders insisted their mandate was ‘not to remove Gaddafi by force’. ‘But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in power,’ they added.
The article was originally intended to be a collaboration between Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy, coinciding with the Prime Minister’s trip to Paris on Wednesday to discuss the military action.
A draft was sent to the White House as a courtesy, prompting a request from Mr Obama to add his name.
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