Italy to try to seek date for end of Libya mission

Italy pledged on Tuesday to seek an end date for NATO's Libya operations as Premier Silvio Berlusconi sought to placate a key government partner opposed to Italian participation in the bombing missions.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters that Rome "will try, along with international organizations, and until, until I'm proven wrong, NATO, and its allies, to set an end" date for the operations.

Rome recently agreed to allow its warplanes to participate in NATO bombing missions as a way to increase pressure on the Libyan regime of Moammar Gadhafi.

Government officials quickly offered reassurances that Italy was fully committed to its role in the NATO operation. They suggested Frattini's comments reflected a reality that allies eventually need to discuss mission sustainability.

Following Frattini's comments, foreign ministry spokesman Maurizo Massari said Italy's priority continue to be the NATO objectives that emerged at a NATO foreign ministers' meeting last month in Germany

In Berlin, the allies resolved to enforce a U.N. arms embargo, to protect civilians acting to push Gadhafi forces out of cities they have entered, and to get humanitarian aid in.

"Objectives come first... The sooner the objectives are achieved, the sooner the mission can end," Massari told The Associated Press.

Frattini was speaking on the eve of a vote in the Chamber of Deputies on various motions opposed to Italy's participation in the bombing missions, including a motion sought by Berlusconi's main coalition partner, Umberto Bossi of the Northern League.

Berlusconi's survival in the premiership depends on support by his volatile ally, who fears that bombing will trigger an even bigger exodus of refugees from Libya to Italy.

In the past few months, thousands of people, many of them Africans who live or migrated through Libya, have set sail in smugglers' boats from Libyan shores and landed on tiny Italian islands in the Mediterranean.