THE United States has paved the way for Libya's rebel groups to be armed by the international community if air strikes to oust Muammar Gaddafi fail.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed for the first time in London that the United Nations resolution did allow for the ''legitimate transfer of arms'' to rebels if a nation chose to do so.
''Our interpretation of 1973 amended is that it overrode the absolute prohibition of arms to anyone in Libya so there could be legitimate transfer of arms if a country chose to do that. We have not made that decision at this time,'' she said.
Thick smoke rises over Libya's Tajoura area, about 30 kilometres east of Tripoli, after an air strike on Tuesday. Photo: AP
Speaking at the Foreign Office after the summit on Libya late on Tuesday, Mrs Clinton stressed no formal talks about provision of arms had been on the agenda. But when asked about the possibility, both the British Foreign Minister, William Hague, and his French counterpart, Alain Juppe, stated it was possible despite the UN arms embargo.
Mr Juppe said while the supply of weapons was not part of the resolution, France was ''ready to discuss it with our partners''.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday said Moscow believed foreign powers did not have the right to arm Libyan rebels under the mandate approved by the UN Security Council.
He said ''the NATO Secretary-General, Fogh Rasmussen, declared that the operation in Libya was being staged to protect the population and not to arm it. And here we completely agree with the NATO Secretary-General.''
The suggestion that arms may be provided to opposition forces highlights growing fears among the allies that rebel forces simply do not have the resources to overthrow the Gaddafi regime, particularly in the capital Tripoli.
Speaking separately, Mahmoud Shammam, spokesman for the opposition leader, Mahmoud Jabril, said they wanted to move into Tripoli but were simply not equipped: ''If we had [heavy arms], we'd finish Gaddafi in just a few days. It would be great.
''We want to continue our peaceful revolution; we would like to go to Tripoli and demonstrate there and show Gaddafi that this is the means we have to go through to end it.''
A split appeared over a suggestion, raised by Italy's Foreign Minister to allow Colonel Gaddafi to enter safe exile. While this appears to have been backed by Turkey, nations including Britain and the US made clear a preference that he face the International Criminal Court.
After the summit, the opposition-led Interim National Council - represented by Mr Shammam and its British co-ordinator, Guma El-Gamaty - also launched its formal statement on the future of Libya.
The delegation, which was not an official member of the 40-nation strong conference, met Prime Minister David Cameron before issuing the blueprint, titled ''A Vision of a Democratic Libya''. According to Mr El-Gamaty, it can guide Libya through a transition stage, until a constitution is crafted.