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US and UK may arm Libyan rebels

A US Air Force C130 transport aircraft at the Ramstein airbase in Germany, part of joint task force Odyssey Dawn, the US component of the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya. Photo US Africa Command

The United States and Britain have raised the prospect of arming Libya's rebels if air strikes fail to force Muammar Gaddafi from power.

See The Guardian’s report here.

At the end of a conference on Libya in London, US secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said for the first time that she believed arming rebel groups was legal under UN security council resolution 1973, passed two weeks ago, which also provided the legal justification for air strikes.

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, agreed that the resolution made it legal "to give people aid in order to defend themselves in particular circumstances".

The Obama administration is engaged in a fierce debate over whether to supply weapons to the rebels in Libya, senior officials told the New York Times on Tuesday (see the report here).

The debate has drawn in the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, they said.

Reflecting the seriousness of the administration’s debate, Mr. Obama said Tuesday that he was keeping his options open on arming the rebels. “I’m not ruling it out, but I’m also not ruling it in,” Mr. Obama told NBC News.

France, a key state advocating international action to topple Gaddafi  was adamant that the rebels be more heavily armed and was in discussions with the Obama administration about how France would bring this about, the NYT reported.

And the West's main Arab ally, Qatar, also said providing weapons to Gaddafi's opponents should be considered if air strikes failed to dislodge him, The Guardian reported.

In London, Mrs. Clinton and other Western leaders made it clear that the NATO-led operation would end only with the removal of Colonel Qaddafi, even if that was not the stated goal of the United Nations resolution.

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