ANTALYA, Turkey — The EU's planned naval military operation to crack down on people traffickers in the Mediterranean moved closer to fruition Thursday, with Germany confident on winning the necessary UN Security Council resolution and details of the mission emerging.
The proposed mission is a crucial plank of the EU's strategy to fight human smugglers who put migrants seeking a better life in Europe on potentially fatal voyages from the North African coast, in particular Libya, towards EU waters.
The EU wants to be able to intercept and board the boats in Libyan waters before they reach European jurisdiction, something that would require a UN resolution.
Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in the Turkish city of Antalya, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he expected such approval to be forthcoming.
"My impression is that there is no veto in principle from one of the veto powers in the Security Council of the United Nations.
"It looks to me that at the current moment it more a question of formulations. I hope that my assessment is right," he said.
Steinmeier added powers were currently deciding at what point it would make sense to propose a draft resolution that would work.
Steinmeier's comments indicate that the bloc does not fear obstacles from veto-wielding non-EU permanent Security Council members Russia and China on the issue.
The mission, called EU Navfor Med, already received initial blessing on Wednesday from the 28 member states of the European Union in Brussels, ahead of a meeting of foreign and defense ministers on Monday, diplomatic sources told AFP.
The formal decision to set up the mission should be taken at Monday's meeting with ministers then expected to ask the European military authorities to set it up, the sources added.
It should then be launched at an EU summit in June.
'HQ in Rome'
Leading countries in the EU — Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — have already promised to deploy warships in the mission.
Meanwhile, other countries like Poland or Slovenia could contribute by supplying surveillance planes or helicopters.
The headquarters of the mission is to be in Rome and it will be lead by Italian Rear Adm. Enrico Credendino, a European diplomat told AFP.
EU leaders had asked Mogherini to prepare an operation that would allow the seizure and destruction of boats used by the people smugglers, in line with international law.
Pressure had grown on governments following a succession of horrific incidents with poorly-equipped boats loaded with migrants sinking in the Mediterranean in the spring that left hundreds dead.
The military force would have to deal with the traffickers, who are often heavily armed and have charged their victims thousands of dollars for the risky passage.
The EU wants to take the operation step-by-step, starting by collecting intelligence on the traffickers by using radar, satellite pictures and reconnaissance flights.
If the EU wants ships from its members states to enter Libyan waters or capture a boat flying a foreign flag, it needs the green light from the UN under international law.
Mogherini has excluded any kind of ground operation in Libya, a country plunged into chaos with two rival governments and where Islamic State (IS) jihadists have a significant presence.
"If ever they (the people smugglers) have assets on land we will ask the question of how to reach them. We would fire from the sea," a diplomat said.
However several sources indicated there was no question of making attacks that could involve civilian victims, which would exclude strikes on ports or holding camps established by the people smugglers for the migrants.