President Barack Obama said the international community is “slowly tightening the noose” on Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi through sanctions and aid to anti-government forces. He said additional actions, including a military response, are being considered.
“I have not taken any options off the table,” Obama told reporters today in Washington. “When it comes to U.S. military action, whether it’s a no-fly zone or other options you’ve got to balance costs versus benefits and I don’t take those decisions lightly.”
The violence in Libya is the deadliest to emerge from protests across the Middle East that have already toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt.
Fighting between forces loyal to Qaddafi and opposition groups continued to rage today across the country and near oil installations and the country’s largest refinery.
Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, who has become the regime’s top spokesman, vowed to regain lost territory with a full-scale offensive against the rebellion, which has split the country and killed more than 1,000 people. He said the government would never surrender to the rebels and Western countries will lose if they support the uprising.
Force Against Civilians
Obama said he was concerned about Qaddafi’s continued use of troops and firepower against civilians.
“I am concerned, absolutely, and that’s why it’s so important for us not to stop where we are but also find options that will apply additional pressure,” he said. Any military response must be “well thought-through.”
“We’re going to have to look at what develops on the ground on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “I don’t want to generalize right now and say that’s what’s happening and we’re prepared to step in.”
The U.S. and its NATO allies won’t impose a no-fly zone unless the United Nations Security Council gives them permission, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said yesterday in Brussels, where alliance defense ministers met to discuss Libya.
France and the U.K. are drafting a UN Security Council resolution that “could include a no-fly zone or other options against air attacks,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron wrote in a letter to European Union President Herman Van Rompuy.
The Arab League, which will hold an emergency meeting tomorrow, has backed a no-fly zone, while the African Union rejected foreign intervention and said five African heads of state will try to start talks among Libyan factions.
Obama said the U.S. is assigning a representative to interact with the Libyan opposition “and determine ways we can further help them.”
He also reiterated calls for Qaddafi to step down.
“It is in the interests of the United States, and more importantly in the interests of the Libyan people, for Mister Qaddafi to leave,” Obama said.