Gaddafi is a tightrope walk for Hague and Fox
The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, has just said that Colonel Gaddafi is "absolutely not" a target for military action. Speaking after a meeting in Downing Street he told the BBC: "It's not allowed under the UN resolution."
This morning, when asked the same question about whether Gaddafi would be specifically targeted, the Foreign Secretary William Hague said it all depended on the circumstances.
Last night the Defence Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC's John Pienaar that targeting the Libyan leader would "potentially be a possibility".
Ministers are wobbling on a verbal tightrope. They want to say nothing that fuels Gaddafi's propaganda, nor spooks the carefully-built coalition. But at the same time they want to keep their military options open.
Here is Liam Fox's exchange:
John Pienaar: "Now the allies have attacked command and control centres as well as air defences. Obviously Gaddafi is at the pinnacle of command and control. Does that make him a legitimate target? If it was possible to hit him without unacceptable civilian casualties, would you try to do that?"
Liam Fox: "Well that would potentially be a possibility but you mention immediately one of the problems we would have. Which is that you would have to take into account any civilian casualties that might result from that and at all times we are very careful to avoid that for its humanitarian reasons, but also for the propaganda reasons that it would provide for the regime itself."
Update 14:50: Another wobble and ministers may fall off this particular tightrope.
Government sources are now contradicting the Chief of the Defence Staff insisting that it IS legal under the UN resolution to target Colonel Gaddafi if he is a threat to the civilian population of Libya.
What the General and the politicians agree on is that - as a matter of fact - Libya's leader is NOT currently being targeted.
The UN resolution's phrase "all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas" appears to exclude very little. So little that the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today told workers at a Russian ballistic missile factory:
<blockquote>"It allows everything. It resembles medieval calls for crusades."</blockquote>
The limit on what can be done is probably more to do with keeping the coalition together than with legality. However, targeting Gaddafi personally would be seen by many as disproportionate, outside the spirit of the UN resolution and, potentially, cause problems for President Obama since he is required to give an executive order before a head of state is targeted.