U.S. still sees Libyan handover in days

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s spokesman expressed confidence on Thursday that the United States will be able to hand over control of the Libyan military operation within days.

“We are still operating under that timeline, that it will be days, not weeks,” spokesman Jay Carney said. Discussions are ongoing within NATO and “we feel very confident that it will happen soon,” he said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking after a phone conversation with his counterparts in the United States, France and Britain, said on Thursday command will be transferred within a day or two.

Washington wants to hand over command of the air campaign within days, putting French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron under pressure to define the mission and command arrangements when they meet other European leaders in Brussels on Thursday.

NATO ambassadors have been negotiating how to expand the alliance’s role in Libya. Days of heated talks have failed to reach a deal so far and the issue was complicated by Turkey’s attachments of conditions to NATO’s control of Libya operations.

“We are very confident that we are going to reach agreement on command and control and other aspects of what we would probably describe as phase two of this operation, and that includes working with the Turks on it,” Carney told reporters at a White House news briefing.

U.S. leaders have stressed that Washington would not lead the fighting in Libya much longer, insisting that military action in the North African state is intended to protect civilians and limited in duration and scope.

Carney said U.S. planes would not be patrolling the no-fly zone.

“The United States will continue to have a role but it will not be a lead role in enforcement of the no-fly zone. It will be a support and assist role,” including jamming of communications and intelligence, he said.

(Editing by Sandra Maler and Bill Trott)

U.S. still sees Libyan handover in days