Obama mulls responses on Libya
Washington - Preparing for the prospect of deeper international intervention, President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron conferred on Tuesday on the spectrum of military and humanitarian responses to Libya's worsening civil strife.
The British leader bluntly said after the talk that the world cannot stand aside and let Muammar Gaddafi brutalise his people.
In weighing the options, the Obama administration underscored that any authorisation of a no-fly zone over Libya must come from the Security Council at the United Nations.
"We think it's important that the United Nations make this decision - not the United States," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Britain's Sky News. The comment reflected Obama's thinking that any action intended to halt Libya's violence must carry the legitimacy and strength of an international coalition.
Obama's top national security advisers were to meet Wednesday at the White House to outline what steps are realistic to pressure Gaddafi to end the violence and leave power, officials said. Clinton, national security adviser Tom Donilon and CIA chief Leon Panetta are among those expected to attend as Obama's team centred in on recommendations for him. The president himself was not expected to attend.
Obama and Cameron agreed to press ahead on potential responses from the US and its Nato allies, including the creation of a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace to keep Gaddafi from bombarding the rebels seeking to oust him from power, according to statements released from their offices. Other options including steeper surveillance, humanitarian assistance and enforcement of an arms embargo as Libya slips from Gaddafi's grip and into a civil war.
"We have got to prepare for what we might have to do if he (Gaddafi) goes on brutalising his own people," Cameron told the BBC.
Cameron said his call with Obama was to talk "about the planning we have to do in case this continues and in case he does terrible things to his own people". The prime minister added: "I don't think we can stand aside and let that happen."
Libya's rebel movement has been countered by overwhelming power from loyalists to Gaddafi. Pro-regime forces halted its drive on Tripoli with a heavy barrage of rockets in the east and threatened on Tuesday to recapture the closest rebel-held city to the capital in the west.
The continuing violence increased pressure, from Nato to Washington, for intervention.
Rebels are fighting to oust Gaddafi from power after more than 41 years, and his bloody crackdown has left hundreds, perhaps thousands, dead. Libya's UN ambassador, who broke with Gaddafi, has urged the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone to prevent Gaddafi's forces from bombing civilians. Britain and France are drafting a resolution, but no decision has been made.
The United States has acted itself and worked with world partners to impose sanctions on the Libyan regime and freeze its assets.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said on Tuesday that the creation of a no-fly zone could help hasten Gaddafi's exit.
"Every day and every hour that goes by, innocent Libyans are being attacked and massacred from the air," McCain said. "I also worry about additional actions that Gaddafi could take such as bombing oil facilities, which could have extreme environmental consequences."
Earlier in the day, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, McCain pressed senior the secretary of the Navy, the chief of Naval Operations and the commandant of the Marine Corps about US military equipment in the region and how difficult it would be to impose a no-fly zone. The witnesses described Libya's air defence as "modest" but insisted that combat operations would be a precursor to any action.
'Act of war'
In order to ground the Libyan air force, thereby providing air cover for the rebels, US and partner aircraft would first attack Libya's anti-aircraft defences.
Senator Richard Lugar, ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, warned that imposing a no-fly zone would be a costly "act of war".
"The United States should not, in my view, launch military intervention into yet another Muslim country without thinking long and hard about the consequences and implications," Lugar said.
Gates "has been on the record, and his views have not changed," said his spokesperson, Geoff Morrell, who was travelling with the defence secretary on Tuesday in Afghanistan to visit coalition troops.
Morrell said Gates is not opposed to a no-fly zone but has raised concerns that it might not be as easy or effective as some would say.
The White House meeting of the president's highest security advisers on Wednesday will examine the ramifications of a no-fly zone over Libya and potential military options, although the final decision will rest with Obama, officials said.
A highly visible show of force could involve US ships moving into the Gulf of Sidra and lingering in international waters, which would be about 22.5km offshore. Other options include greater use of surveillance flights, intelligence-gathering and ongoing support for evacuations and humanitarian assistance.
On Capitol Hill, House Armed Services Committee Chairperson Rep Buck McKeon, a Republican, took a swipe at Obama at the end of a news conference.
"He's doing a great job of doing nothing on Libya," McKeon said.
'Working with the international community'
Clinton, in the Sky News interview, said the United States wants Gaddafi to go peacefully. He has shown no intention to do so.
"If that's not possible, then we are going to work with the international community," she said.
"Now, there are countries that do not agree with that. We think it's important that the United Nations make this decision, not the United States, and so far the United Nations has not done that. I think it's very important that this not be a US-led effort, because this comes from the people of Libya themselves; this doesn't come from the outside."