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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to meet with Libyan rebel leaders in Paris today in her first overseas trip to address Arab world revolutions since the ousting of former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Her visit comes as the Obama administration shows wariness about offering support to Libyan rebels and Col. Muammar Qaddafi's forces make surprising gains.
In Paris, Clinton will meet with Libyan opposition figures and meet several European counterparts to discuss military intervention in Libya, the Associated Press reports. France has already recognized the Libyan opposition interim council and, together with Britain, is drafting a no-fly zone resolution to put forward at the United Nations Security Council. But the US has been more reticent to throw its full support behind the rebels.
AP notes that the US regard for rebels “may well depend” on Clinton’s meetings today, since “the [rebel] council's composition and aims largely remain a mystery to American officials.”
Clinton is due to visit Tunisia and Egypt after Paris to express support for the ousters of autocratic governments there. "We have an enormous stake in ensuring that Egypt and Tunisia provide models for the kind of democracy that we want to see," Clinton told lawmakers last week, warning them about Iran's attempts to gain influence across the region, according to the Agence France-Presse.
Even though the Arab League offered a strongly-worded statement of support this weekend for an internationally backed no-fly zone over Libya, saying that the Libyan government had "lost its sovereignty," Obama on Sunday showed hesitation in committing the US to military action in Libya.
"Anytime I send United States forces into a potentially hostile situation, there are risks involved and there are consequences. And it is my job as president to make sure that we have considered all those risks," he told reporters, according to the Associated Press. "It's also important from a political perspective to, as much as possible, maintain the strong international coalition that we have right now."
The Obama administration has expressed concern about a military that is already spread thin and about being perceived as meddling in another country's affairs. It has insisted that any military intervention have UN approval and support from the Arab League.
Meanwhile, Qaddafi's forces have made surprisingly strong gains against rebels, even advancing toward the opposition “capital” of Benghazi in eastern Libya.
After pummeling the key oil town of Ras Lanuf last week, pro-Qaddafi forces moved east to claim Brega over the weekend. Rebels say the next battle will be in Ajdabiya, a strategic town on a junction that leads to both the oil refineries of Tobruk and the self-made rebel stronghold of Benghazi, the Guardian reports.
Although the rebel forces commander said Qaddafi's forces will face a difficult fight if they try to reclaim Ajdabiya, some members of the antigovernment forces seemed less confident, bemoaning a lack of assistance from other countries and discussing exit plans to Egypt.
According to the Washington Post, reporting from Tripoli, pro-government forces tout reclaiming of oil town Ras Lanuf and Brega as a significant gain. The rebel forces commanders claims his forces made a “strategic retreat” from Brega.
Col. Milad Hussein, an army spokesman, [said] that he did not anticipate a tough battle in Benghazi. He said that the government hopes to resolve the crisis "through reconciliation" with tribal leaders in eastern Libya but that the rebel movement is not proving to be a potent adversary.
"To deal with them you don't need full-scale military action," the Libyan spokesman said. "They are groups of people who, when you come to them, they just raise their hands and go. "