Libya: Nato defends operation during Russia talks

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (bottom R) and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen (L) shake hands as they pose for a photo with the participants in the Russia-Nato Council in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, on Monday
Image caption There seems to have been no immediate breakthrough over Libya at the Russia-Nato talks

Nato's chief has staunchly defended its operation in Libya during a meeting of the Nato-Russia Council in the southern Russian resort town of Sochi.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the campaign was being undertaken in "strict conformity" with the UN Security Council resolution authorising it.

Russia earlier said deep differences over the operation were hindering efforts to build deeper ties.

Nato-backed Libyan rebels have rejected the latest peace plan put to them.

That initiative was drawn up by the African Union, driven in part by the efforts of South African President Jacob Zuma, who has joined the talks in Sochi to add his voice to Russian concerns about the Nato operation.

Pressure has been growing to find an end to the conflict in Libya, where Col Muammar Gaddafi continues to resist calls to stand down despite a three-month Nato bombing campaign.


This is a routine meeting of the Nato-Russia Council which has been given special significance amid the divisions over Nato's campaign in Libya.

Russia has criticised the bombing of Libya, saying the mission has lost its original focus on protecting civilians, and is now about removing the Libyan government. It abstained from the UN Security Council vote which authorised the action in Libya.

In a statement, Russia called for an "immediate ceasefire" and talks "with support, but not interference, from outside the country".

But during a break in the meeting Mr Rasmussen defended the Nato operation.

"The Russian side has voiced some concerns related to our operation in Libya," he told reporters.

"We have stressed that we are carrying out this operation in strict conformity with the UN Security Council resolution.

"We have been mandated to take all necessary means to protect civilians against attacks and so far we have been very successful in protecting civilians," he said.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said differences over the war in Libya and missile defence were hindering efforts to build a strategic partnership.

The issue is likely to come up again when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meets Mr Rasmussen for talks later.

On Sunday Libyan rebels rejected an AU peace initiative, with rebel spokesman Abdel Hafiz Ghoga saying: "We have rejected it. It did not include the departure of Gaddafi, his sons and his inner circle."

Rebel row?

Later, the head of the rebel Transitional National Council Mustafa Abdul Jalil signalled what appeared to be a significant policy shift, saying Col Gaddafi would be welcome to live out his retirement inside Libya as long as he gave up all power.

Image caption The fate of Col Gaddafi's regime is a key sticking point in talks on the future of Libya

That was later contradicted by Mr Ghoga and Mr Jalil has now confirmed there is "absolutely no current or future possibility for Gaddafi to remain in Libya", reports AFP news agency.

He said such an offer had been proposed in previous rebel overtures to Tripoli but said it was now null and void following an International Criminal Court warrant for Col Gaddafi's arrest.

Mr Jalil's suggestion that Col Gaddafi might be allowed to remain in Libya had triggered an unusual protest in the rebel capital, Benghazi, and suggestions of a rift in the rebel leadership.

Meanwhile, a Libyan government spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, has told Reuters news agency that there have been meetings between Libyan government officials and rebel representatives in Rome, Cairo and Oslo.

He said one of the meetings, in Rome, included Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi, a former minister in the Gaddafi government, and was witnessed by Italian officials.

But an Italian foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying: "There hasn't been any [meeting] and we have not participated in any meeting."