PARIS (Reuters) - France’s foreign minister on Friday ruled out launching air strikes or sending troops on the ground to tackle Islamic State in Libya, but said it could help secure the U.N.-brokered national unity government in Tripoli.
Western powers are backing the unity government, hoping it will seek foreign support to confront Islamic State militants, deal with migrant flows from Libya to Europe and restore oil production to shore up Libya’s economy.
However, there are fears that direct military intervention could worsen the situation especially if a political vacuum remains in the country.
“We shouldn’t make the same mistakes as in the past. If you’re imagining air strikes, ground troops, that’s not on the table. It’s not France’s position anyway,” Jean-Marc Ayrault told France Info radio.
“However, to secure the government, if Mr (Fayez) Seraj (head of the unity government) asks for international help then we’ll study it.”
Diplomatic sources have said that so far there has been no request from Seraj other than to help him leave the country should the security situation in Tripoli deteriorate.
Paris played a leading part in the NATO air campaign that helped rebels overthrow autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but later regretted the lack of support given to the authorities afterwards.
French aircraft are now conducting reconnaissance flights over Libya while French military advisers operate on the ground in conjunction with Britain and the United States.
Ayrault said this week France hoped to reopen its embassy in as soon as possible as a sign of support for Libya’s new unity government.
“Yesterday, I spoke to Mr Seraj, who invited me to come to Libya. As soon as the conditions are right, I shall go,” Ayrault said.
Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Richard Balmforth