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Military Campaign in Libya to Ease; Russia Calls for Truce

Robert Gates and Anatoly SerdyukovMarch 22 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the intensity of the military campaign in Libya will ease in the next few days as his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov called for an immediate cease-fire on both sides.

Allied strikes against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's forces are consistent with the United Nations Security Council resolution on protecting civilians, Gates said during joint remarks with Serdyukov in Moscow today. Gates is scheduled to meet President Dmitry Medvedev later today.

"The coalition is going to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, and most of the targets are air defense targets isolated from populated areas," Gates said. "I also told Minister Serdyukov that I thought the significant military fighting that has been going on should recede in the next few days."

Allied forces expanded their air campaign over Libya to thwart fighters loyal to Qaddafi and enable rebels to regain control of cities. Russia joined four members of the UN Security Council in abstaining from last week's resolution that authorized the strikes by the U.S. and its allies, which are intended to limit civilian casualties from the conflict.

Even so, civilian deaths in Libya "shouldn't have been allowed," the Russian defense minister said today.


Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said yesterday that the UN resolution and resulting allied offensive amounts to a "medieval call for a crusade," a description Medvedev later dismissed as "unacceptable."

Russia, which could have vetoed the resolution as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, abstained, a decision that Medvedev defended yesterday because the agreement "broadly" reflected the country's position.

Gates and Serdyukov also discussed cooperation in Afghanistan, missile defense and the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the defense chiefs said.

Gates is the latest high-level Obama administration official to visit Russia in recent weeks for talks on missile defense. The U.S. aims to end Russian leaders' opposition to the system, insisting it's intended to guard against potential attacks from Iran rather than to weaken Russia's offensive capabilities.

Vice President Joseph Biden earlier this month said the U.S. seeks an agreement with Russia on missile defense "this year." Cooperation on "this once-contentious issue" will be a "game changer," Biden said in a speech at Moscow State University on March 10.

Article ©2011 BLOOMBERG L.P. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED; article first appeared at www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-22/military-campaign-in-libya-to-ease-as-russia-calls-for-truce-1-.html

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