Obama weighs 'full range of options' for Libya's Qaddafi

President Obama condemns the Libyan government's violence and criticizes their claims that the uprisings in Libya and across the region have been driven by foreign powers.

Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT/Newscom
President Barack Obama, flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, makes a statement on the situation in Libya in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 23.

As Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi showed no signs of halting the violent repression of his regime’s opponents, President Obama said Wednesday the US is considering a “full range of options” for pressuring the Libyan leader.

In a brief White House statement Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Obama called the Libyan government’s violence against its own citizens “outrageous” and said the US would consider both unilateral and multilateral actions to send a message “to the government and people of Libya.”

Obama announced that he is dispatching Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Geneva on Monday to participate in a session on the Libyan crisis at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.

And while he left the door open for specific national measures, the president emphasized that the focus of US action will be with allies and multilateral organizations such as the UN, so that the “international community” is sure to “speak with one voice.” Secretary Clinton will also meet with European Union and Arab League counterparts, on Libya specifically and “on events throughout the region,” Obama said.

While Obama did not give any specifics on possible measures, State Department officials said earlier Wednesday that the US is considering a number of options, including economic sanctions.

Earlier Wednesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a statement in which he called on the European Union to “swiftly adopt concrete sanctions” to convince the perpetrators of Libya’s violence that “they must accept the consequences of their actions.” Mr. Sarkozy said the options include bringing state-sanctioned human rights violators to justice, prohibiting access to EU territory, and “monitoring financial transactions.”

Actions the US is considering, either unilaterally or with international partners, range from freezing assets and declaring a no-fly zone (to halt the Libyan military’s bombardment of opposition forces) to economic sanctions and sending in humanitarian aid, according to State Department officials.

Obama’s statement was the president’s first comment on events in Libya since a brief written statement issued last Friday. The intervening White House silence had prompted some analysts to question US motives, while some US policymakers – for example, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry – stepped up and proposed US action, including sanctions.

According to some US officials, the president waited to make his statement until efforts could be made to evacuate American citizens from Libyan soil. The US only reestablished full diplomatic relations with the mercurial Mr. Qaddafi in 2008, and some officials expressed concerns that a forceful US response could prompt Qaddafi to take measures against Americans in his country.

The US arranged for a ferry to carry the bulk of remaining US citizens out of the country to Malta, but bad weather prevented the ferry from leaving Wednesday.

In his statement, Obama seemed intent on underscoring the point that the events in Libya and across the region are the result of the people’s yearnings and frustrations, and not the work of any foreign government or entity.

Speaking a day after Qaddafi defiantly rejected outside pressure to stop the violence and blamed the “dogs” of the media and “colonialist powers” for Libya’s crisis, Obama said, “The change that is taking place across the region is being driven by the people of the region…not the United States or any foreign power.”

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