US says Qaddafi must go, as action against Libya quickens

Hillary Clinton says Muammar Qaddafi must leave office 'now, without further violence or delay.' Global pressure intensifies with talk of no-fly zone and court inquiry into alleged crimes.

Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/AP
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the opening session of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, Feb. 28.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday made it crystal clear: The United States says Muammar Qaddafi must go.

Speaking at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Geneva, Secretary Clinton said the Libyan leader’s violence against his own people meant that he must depart his office “now, without further violence or delay.” And the US is keeping “all options on the table,” she added, to protect Libya’s civilian population and to encourage a transition to a legitimate government.

Clinton’s words came as global pressure on the Qaddafi government continued to mount, with the European Union formally adopting sanctions against the regime Monday and global powers discussing establishment of a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians from any renewed bombardments.

The US is already repositioning forces already in the African region in the event a no-fly zone is adopted, the Pentagon said Monday.

An international investigation of Qaddafi’s alleged crimes against humanity was also moving forward, with the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, announcing that a preliminary investigation began Monday. The initial inquiry will lead to a decision within a matter of days whether the ICC launches a formal investigation into the Libyan regime’s actions since Feb. 15, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo says.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Monday that “exile” is one option for Colonel Qaddafi to consider to spare his country further hardship and to meet international demands.

The accelerated pace of action against Libya stands in stark contrast to the international community’s reputation for sluggish and extremely cautious proceedings in such cases – especially at the UN. But UN diplomats and analysts say they could not recall a recent case where the international body and its various institutions acted so quickly.

The Obama administration was criticized last week for what some human rights organizations and other critics said was slow action in response to the state-sponsored violence in Libya that began two weeks ago. The administration countered that it had moved cautiously while American citizens were still in Libya and potentially in danger of reprisal from the famously mercurial Colonel Qaddafi.

But Obama announced sanctions against Libya on Saturday, and the US supported the adoption of international sanctions Saturday in the UN Security Council. At the same time, the president began telling a number of foreign leaders he spoke with by telephone over the weekend that Qaddafi had lost his legitimacy.

Discussion of a no-fly zone over Libya was addressed publicly by both American and European officials, but it was not clear that the idea was addressed more broadly in Clinton’s meetings with international partners Monday.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said in comments to the House of Commons that he had directed the Defense Ministry “to work with our allies on plans for a military no-fly zone.”

But on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists that “no one” had broached the subject with him. That suggested that Western allies might be considering NATO for imposing a no-fly zone.

Both Russia and China – usually cautious about international actions that might be construed as intervention in a sovereign government’s affairs – went along with imposing sanctions on Libya in the Security Council Saturday, as well as with referring Qaddafi to the ICC. But UN diplomats and analysts say they would expect Russia and China to stop there and to have to see renewed air attacks by the Libyan regime against its own people before approving a no-fly zone.

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