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On Libyan no-fly zone, the U.N. Security Council plays a waiting game

Despite repeated talk about the possible establishment of a U.N.-authorized no fly zone, Britain, France and the United States have yet to table a no-fly resolution in the U.N. Security Council. The caution reflects reservations over the plan in Washington, D.C. and African and Arab capitals and the reluctance of Western powers to intervene in the Libyan crisis without broad regional backing.

On Monday, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague outlined three requirements for the imposition of a no-fly zone: there must be a clear trigger, possible a bloody crackdown on civilians; there must regional support from African and Arab governments; and there must be a legal basis for pressing ahead. (It was unclear whether today's reports of civilians casualties, including women and children, in Zawiyah would constitute such a trigger.)

Many council members believe a Security Council vote is legally required for the creation of a no-fly-zone. But Britain, France and the United States have previously enforced a no-fly zone over Iraq without Security Council approval, citing the overwhelming humanitarian demands of intervening to protect civilians.

For the time being, Britain and France, who have taken the lead in negotiating the draft resolution establishing a no fly zone, are expected to await the outcome of high-level meetings of the Arab League and the African Union later this week before deciding to introduce their draft to the 15-nation council.

Still, in a closed-door session of the council this morning, Britain and France sought to prod the council into preparing for action, saying that a week old resolution calling for an end to government violence has not succeeded.

Britain's U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall-Grant expressed concern about the "risk of a civil war" in Libya and said the council needs to "consider further steps" to rein in Col. Moammar Qadaffi's government," council sources told Turtle Bay.  France's U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud said the council needs to consider "all options, including a no fly zone," according to the sources, who provided a detailed account of the meeting.

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, meanwhile, took a slightly more cautious approach, saying that while the council may have to consider range of options, including "strengthening sanctions...no one option is the silver bullet." Germany's U.N. ambassador, Peter Wittig, also raised the prospect of tightening sanctions, proposing possible new restrictions on the Libyan financial sector.

The council's other members, including China and Russia, pushed back, saying it is too early to consider stepping up pressure on Qaddafi's regime. Libyans, they argue, should sort out their own problems. Brazil's U.N. ambassador, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti said that it was not the right time to consider further "coercive measures" against Libya.

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