US willing to arm Libyan rebels, says Clinton


US SECRETARY of state Hillary Clinton has raised the possibility that the United States may offer arms to Libyan rebels opposing Col Muammar Gadafy.

There could be “legitimate transfers”, she said, because the US believes the United Nations resolution on Libya overrides “the absolute prohibition” on arms shipments.

Her declaration, made at the end of a London conference on the Libya crisis attended by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, and 40 foreign ministers from western and Arab states, marks a significant change in US thinking, since Washington on Monday had said the arms embargo applied to all sides in the conflict.

Separately, Sweden, which is not part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, has offered to send eight military jets to take part in enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya.

And the Qatari prime minister, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al Thani, held out the prospect of a greater contribution by Arab states.

Clearly seeking arms supplies – though pointing out that the council had not yet asked for any – Mahmoud Shammam, spokesman for the Libyan National Council set up to oppose Col Gadafy, said it would accept “any help we can get from any country”.

“If you look to the reports that you have from the streets of Libya or from the cities of Libya you will see that our people have very light arms,” he said.

“We don’t have arms at all; otherwise we finish Gadafy in a few days,” he told journalists in London.

“But we don’t have arms. We ask for the political support more than we are asking for the arms.

“But if we get both that would be great.”

Taking a more nuanced line than the US secretary of state, British foreign secretary William Hague said the issue had not been discussed at the London gathering.

Britain has up to now believed that arms shipments would be illegal under UN law.

“This subject has been raised by the national council. But it is not part of any agreement today,” Mr Hague said.

“The UK takes into account the UN Security Council resolutions on this.

“Those resolutions in our view apply to the whole of Libya, although it is consistent with United Nations Security Council resolution 1973, to give people aid in order to defend themselves in particular circumstances,” he added.

Questioned about fears in Britain that arms sent to help overthrow the Libyan leader could later be used by Islamic extremists against the West, Mr Hague acknowledged that, “if things go wrong, there could be opportunities for extremism”.