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Obama to Pentagon: Give me a list of options to protect Libyans

President Obama says he has asked the Pentagon and other agencies to come up with ways that the US could help protect Libyans in case the 'situation deteriorates rapidly.'

By Staff writer / March 3, 2011

President Obama speaks during his joint news conference with Mexico's President Felipe Calderón Thursday in the White House in Washington. Obama said during the press conference that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi 'needs to step down from power.'

Charles Dharapak/AP

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Washington

President Obama on Thursday made his strongest statement to date that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has “lost legitimacy” and must give up power.

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“Colonel Qaddafi needs to step down from power and leave,” Mr. Obama said during a White House press conference with visiting Mexican President Felipe Calderón. That would be “good for his country, good for his people, and is the right thing to do.”

Obama also said he has instructed relevant agencies including the Pentagon to “examine a full range of options” for dealing with the Libyan crisis, including a no-fly zone over the country. But he said the priority at the moment is the developing humanitarian crisis on Libya’s eastern borders, and emphasized that any US action would be undertaken in concert with US allies and partners.

While he gave no suggestion that the international enforcement of a no-fly zone was an imminent possibility, Obama did say he wanted a list of options prepared for “protecting” Libyan civilians so that he “would be able to act potentially rapidly if the situation deteriorates rapidly.”

That statement suggested the US and other countries discussing a no-fly zone may be watching for a “trigger” of an eventual aerial campaign by Qaddafi against a rebelling population before such an extreme step would be taken. Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke very cautiously about a no-fly zone on Wednesday, noting that such a step would essentially require the US to launch an air war on Libya to take out the country’s air-defense systems.

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