WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration stands ready to offer "any type of assistance" to Libyans seeking to oust Muammar Gaddafi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday, adding a warning to other African nations not to let mercenaries go to the aid of the longtime dictator.
Clinton made no mention of any U.S. military assistance in her remarks to reporters before flying to Geneva for talks with diplomats from Russia, the European Union and other powers eager to present a united anti-Gaddafi front.
Shortly before she left, two senators urged the administration to help arm a provisional government in Libya, where Gaddafi is in the midst of the desperate and increasingly violent bid to retain power.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, also called for the United States and its allies to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent the military from again firing on civilian protesters from the air.
The White House had no immediate comment on their recommendations.
Clinton spoke to reporters one day after President Barack Obama branded Gaddafi an illegitimate ruler who must leave power immediately. "We want him to leave and we want him to end his regime and call off the mercenaries and those troops that remain loyal to him," she said. "How he manages that is obviously up to him and to his family."
The U.N. Security Council voted last Saturday to impose new penalties against the Gaddafi government, in power since 1969 in the oil-rich nation along Africa's Mediterranean Coast.
"We are just at the beginning of what will follow Gaddafi. ... But we've been reaching out to many different Libyans who are attempting to organize in the east and as the revolution moves westward there as well," Clinton said. "I think it's way too soon to tell how this is going to play out, but we're going to be ready and prepared to offer any kind of assistance that anyone wishes to have from the United States."
Efforts are under way to form a provisional government in the eastern part of the country where the rebellion began at midmonth.
The U.S., Clinton said, is threatening more measures against Gaddafi's government, but did not say what they were or when they might be announced.
Addressing the rulers of unnamed neighboring countries, she said: "You must stop mercenaries, you must stop those who may be going to Libya either at the behest or opportunistically to engage in violence or other criminal acts. And we will be working closely with those neighboring countries to ensure that they do so.
The African fighters that Gaddafi is allegedly using against protesters come from several nations.
Clinton's remarks did not go as far as those of McCain or Lieberman.
"Libyan pilots aren't going to fly if there is a no-fly zone and we could get air assets there to ensure it," McCain said. But he added, "I'm not ready to use ground forces or further intervention than that."
He said the U.S. should "recognize some provisional government that they are trying to set already up in the eastern part of Libya, help them with material assistance, make sure that every one of the mercenaries know that any acts they commit they will find themselves in front a war crimes tribunal. Get tough."
Lieberman spoke in similar terms, urging "tangible support, (a) no-fly zone, recognition of the revolutionary government, the citizens government and support for them with both humanitarian assistance and I would provide them with arms."
He likened the situation in Libya to the events in the Balkans in the 1990s when he said the U.S. "intervened to stop a genocide against Bosnians. And the first we did was to provide them the arms to defend themselves. That's what I think we ought to do in Libya."
McCain and Lieberman spoke on CNN's "State of the Union" from Egypt, where a largely peaceful popular uprising recently toppled President Hosni Mubarak from power after a reign of nearly three decades.
It was one of numerous rebellions across Northern Africa and the Middle East in recent months, all of them far less violent than the events in Libya, where Gaddafi has used his military and foreign mercenaries to try and crush a revolt and has threatened to begin arming Libyans who support his rule.
The rebellion began Feb. 15 in Benghazi, where a member of the city council said on Sunday that an ex-justice minister was appointed to lead a provisional government for cities under rebel control.
McCain and Lieberman also said Obama was slow to react to Gaddafi's brutal response to the protests. The administration has said the president did not want to risk any attack on Americans who had been trying to leave the country, and waited until a ferry loaded with evacuees reached Malta after spending two days in the harbor at Tripoli, the capital, because of bad weather.
"The British prime minister and the French president and others were not hesitant and they have citizens in that country," said McCain, who also appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Lieberman said he understood why the administration hesitated, but added, "I wish we had spoken out much more clearly and early against the Gaddafi regime."
03/11/2011 6:31 PM EST
U.S. Extends Sanctions On Libya
Reports the AP:
The Obama administration extended its Libya sanctions to more Gadhafi family members and close advisers on Thursday, blacklisting business with the Libyan leader's wife, four of his children and his chief of military intelligence.
The Treasury Department froze the assets of nine Libyans in all as part of the strategy to peel off Moammar Gadhafi's closest advisers while punishing those who remain loyal to the regime even as it commits human rights violations.
The sanctions come on top of those previously announced by the administration, which accounted for $32 billion in Libyan government assets blocked in the United States.
03/11/2011 5:33 PM EST
Sarkozy Calls For Air Strikes If Gaddafi Attacks Civilians
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for airstrikes against Gaddafi forces if the leader attacks civilians. According to the Guardian:
Nicolas Sarkozy has called for targeted air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi's regime if his forces use chemical weapons or launch air strikes against civilians.
As the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, warned that a no-fly zone could risk civilian lives in Libya, the French president told an emergency EU summit in Brussels that air strikes may soon be justified.
"The strikes would be solely of a defensive nature if Mr Gaddafi makes use of chemical weapons or air strikes against non-violent protesters," Sarkozy said. The French president qualified his remarks by saying he had many reservations about military intervention in Libya "because Arab revolutions belong to Arabs".
03/11/2011 5:06 PM EST
Dutch Helicopter Crew Freed
A Dutch helicopter crew taken captive in Libya has been freed and sent to Greece. The BBC is reporting:
The two men and one woman arrived in Athens on a Greek military transport plane hours after a son of Muammar Gaddafi announced their release.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said Libya would hold on to the crew's Lynx helicopter.
The woman pilot, Yvonne Niersman, took part in a mission last year to free a German ship from Somali pirates.
Ms Niersman and her fellow crew members were captured in Libya after flying in from the Dutch warship Tromp, anchored off the coast.
Read the entire report here.
03/11/2011 4:43 PM EST
McCain Praises Moroccan King
Senator John McCain praised Morocco's King Mohammed VI for his pledge to introduce democratic reforms. According to the AFP:
"This new reform agenda builds on the king's long-standing commitment to lead Morocco to a future of reform and modernization, and it could ensure that the Kingdom of Morocco will continue to stand as a positive example to governments across the Middle East and North Africa," said McCain.
03/11/2011 3:40 PM EST
Gaddafi Offers Amnesty To Rebels
Reuters is reporting that Gaddafi is now offering to offer amnesty to those rebels who lay own arms.
03/11/2011 3:28 PM EST
2 Protesters Killed In Tunisia
The AP reports:
Tunisia's Interior Ministry says a new eruption of violence between police and protesters has killed two people and injured 20.
The ministry says on its Facebook page that police fired tear gas and demonstrators threw stones and gasoline bombs.
The statement says two protesters were killed in the incident in Metlaoui, a mining town in the center of the Mediterranean country.
The violence comes as Tunisia's interim government is trying to restore stability after deadly protests that drove out longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January. That prompted uprisings around the Arab world.
03/11/2011 2:39 PM EST
Berlusconi Says Hardline With Gaddafi A Mistake
Berlusconi is saying that the West may have made a mistake by taking a hardline against Gaddafi, which may have backed the Libyan leader into a corner. Reports Reuters:
The hardline stance taken by major powers against Muammar Gaddafi may have backed the Libyan leader into a corner and prevented a quiet exit, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Friday. Speaking after a special meeting of EU leaders, Berlusconi, one of Gaddafi's closest friends in Europe until the current upheaval, said the chances of persuading him to give up power voluntarily now appeared to have disappeared.
"Once someone put forward the idea of bringing Gaddafi before the International Criminal Court, I think the idea of staying in power became entrenched with him and I don't think anyone can make him change his mind," he told reporters.
Read the entire report here.
03/11/2011 2:16 PM EST
Who Are The Libyan Rebels?
The AP is reporting that the rebels fighting Gaddafi forces are amateurs, but deeply committed to the cause:
Moammar Gadhafi has ruled Libya since long before the 25-year-old was born, and he hates the dictator enough to risk his life by fighting for the ragtag rebel force battling government troops along a desolate highway on the North African country's Mediterranean coast.
"I will fight forever. I will die or win, like Omar Mukhtar," said Salem, invoking the legendary Libyan hero who fought Italian occupiers in the 1930s, was ultimately executed, and has become a symbol for the new revolutionaries.
The front-line force trying to advance toward Gadhafi's stronghold in the capital Tripoli is surprisingly small. Not counting supporters who bolster them in the towns along their path, it is estimated at 1,500 at most — Libyans from all walks of life, from students and coffeeshop owners to businessmen who picked up whatever weapons they could and joined the fight. No one seems to know their full size, and they could be picking up new members all the time.
Its ramshackle nature explains the dramatic lurches the fighting has taken. Last week, they took control over a stretch of Mediterranean coastal land that included major oil installations in the ports of Brega and Ras Lanouf. They charged enthusiastically further west, reaching within a few dozen miles of Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, a bastion of support for the leader of 41 years.
03/11/2011 1:03 PM EST
Gaddafi Forces Show Signs Of Victory
Reports the AP:
Moammar Gadhafi's regime has gained momentum with the capture of a key city near Tripoli after days of fierce fighting with rebels.
The battle for Zawiya has emerged as a key test in the government's ability to maintain its hold on the Libyan capital and surrounding areas.
The government had claimed victory on Wednesday, but the rebels who are seeking to oust Gadhafi said fighting was ongoing.
An Associated Press reporter, who was escorted with other journalists into the city on Friday, says the main square that had been the center of resistance is clearly in government control.
03/11/2011 12:47 PM EST
Obama On Libya
Obama noted all of the sanctions and property seizures that have already been implemented against Gaddafi, saying, "Across the board, we are tightening the noose on Gaddafi." He says that NATO is discussing potential military actions in Libya, including a no-fly zone, and will meet on Tuesday. He said that a position will be created for a liaison to speak with Libyan opposition groups. He said that the international community had moved quickly to isolate Gaddafi.
Obama said that no options have been taken off the table so far. In response to a question about whether it would ever be acceptable to the U.S. for Gaddafi to stay in power, Obama stated that "it is in the U.S.' interest and the interest of the Libyan people for Gaddafi to leave." He added, however, that when making a decision to engage militarily, he would weigh the "costs and benefits."