Diplomat: France blocked any NATO agreement on airstrikes until the Paris meeting

US, European and Arab leaders at the Elysee Palace in Paris to discuss Libyan crisis, March 19, 2011.

From Steven Erlanger and David D. Kirkpatrick, the New York Times:  Even though the leaders at the Paris summit meeting were united in supporting military action, there were signs of disagreement over how it would proceed.

Two senior Western diplomats said the Paris meeting, which was organized by [French President NicolasSarkozy, may actually have delayed allied operations to stop Colonel [Muammar] Qaddafi’s troops as they were approaching Benghazi. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the matter.

The initial French air sorties, which were not coordinated with other countries, angered some of the countries gathered at the summit meeting, according to a senior NATO-country diplomat. Information about the movement of Qaddafi troops toward Benghazi had been clear on Friday, but France blocked any NATO agreement on airstrikes until the Paris meeting, the diplomat said, suggesting that overflights could have begun Friday night before Mr. Qaddafi’s troops reached the city.

The initial stage of the military operation will be run by France and Britain with significant American help, including radar planes, command and control, and precision-guided munitions, including cruise missiles and B-52 bombers, NATO officials said. American forces were expected to focus mostly on knocking out Libyan air defenses.

But [U.S. Secretary of State HillaryClinton emphasized that the United States was not leading the effort. “We did not lead this,” she said. “We did not engage in unilateral actions in any way, but we strongly support the international community taking action against governments and leaders who behave as Qaddafi is unfortunately doing so now.”

By midweek, NATO will take over the operation of the no-fly zone and arms embargo, because it alone has sufficient command and control capabilities, under the direction of the supreme allied commander of Europe, officials said.   (photo: AP)

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