Libya: US rejects Putin's claim that coalition wants to assassinate Gaddafi
US defence secretary Robert Gates says coalition not targeting Libyan leader after claims UK and US went beyond mandate
US defence secretary Robert Gates has rejected a Russian claim that Nato is trying to assassinate Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Gates was speaking after a meeting at the Pentagon with British defence secretary Liam Fox, who also distanced himself from the accusation. Fox has in recent days has been edging towards declaring Gaddafi a legitimate target.
Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister, made the claim after Nato forces bombed Gaddafi's residence in Tripoli on Monday. Putin, on a visit to Denmark, said: "They said they didn't want to kill Gaddafi. Now some officials say: 'Yes, we are trying to kill Gaddafi'. Who permitted this, was there any trial? Who took on the right to execute this man, no matter who he is?"
The Russian leader said the actions were now going beyond the United Nations security council mandate passed last month in which Russia and China abstained. Libya asked Russia to call for a new security council meeting to discuss what it claims is illegitimate action by Nato.
China has also expressed concern about Britain sending military "advisers" to help the Libyan rebels, claiming this went beyond the UN mandate. But Gates, at the end of his meeting with Fox, insisted: "We are not targeting him [Gaddafi] specifically." However command and control centres were legitimate targets, the US defence secretary clarified. Fox also denied Nato was trying to kill Gaddafi. "We do not target individuals" he said.
Before leaving for Washington, Fox told the Daily Mail: "If the regime continues to wage war on its people, those who are involved in those command and control assets need to recognise that we regard them as legitimate targets. Those who are ... controlling the regime's activities against its own people, would have to recognise the risks they would have if they were there during Nato strikes."
Fox appealed to Gates for more help to end the Libyan conflict and to topple Gaddafi. But Gates, who has resisted US involvement in Libya from the outset, rebuffed the plea. Fox denied he had gone to Gates with a specific shopping list that included the A10 tankbuster plane.
Obama agreed last week to deploy US drones in Libya but Fox and General Sir David Richards, the chief of defence staff, planned to ask the US to bring back low-flying A10 tankbusters, according to British government officials.
As residents in Misrata reported continued shelling of civilian areas by pro-Gaddafi forces, there is dismay in London and Washington over the lack of progress in the push to remove Gaddafi.
Gates and Obama have tried to minimise their involvement in Libya, given the country is already engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Fox, speaking on the steps of the Pentagon after meeting Gates, said: "We have seen significant progress made in the last 72 hours with Gaddafi's forces losing their grip on Misrata and we have received reports of under-age soldiers and foreign mercenaries being captured – this underlines the regimes inability to rely on its own security forces. These are the tactics of an increasingly desperate and weak regime."
Foreign secretary William Hague warned his cabinet colleagues that Britain must be prepared for the long haul, according to a Downing Street spokeswoman. She said: "The general tone was that there were grounds for optimism, good progress was being made, the alliance was holding up very well, but clearly we need to turn up the pressure. The mission is going in the right direction but we need to prepare for the long haul."
Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, accused Fox of causing confusion and concern. "These inflammatory comments need clarification," he said. "We support action in Libya within the UN mandate, but we need clarity on the scope and ultimate aim of UK military action."http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/ap ... in-gaddafi