Barack Obama raises pressure on Gaddafi as no-fly zone gains support


Libyan leader told the US and Nato are weighing up a raft of military options, including arming the rebel force

Simon Tisdall, Patrick Wintour and Richard Norton-Taylor

Barack Obama 

US president Barack Obama warns Gaddafi regime America and Nato are considering their military options. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian / POOL/EPA
Barack Obama has stepped up pressure on Colonel Gaddafi, saying the US and Nato allies were considering a military response to violence in Libya, with the list of options including arming the rebels.
Obama’s remarks came as Britain and France made progress in drafting a resolution at the UN calling for a no-fly zone triggered by specific conditions, rather than timelines. Downing Street is hopeful that a resolution with clear triggers such as the bombing of civilians would not be subject to a Russian veto at the security council.
The foreign secretary, William Hague, told the Commons a no-fly zone would have to be supported by north African countries and rebel leaders and would also need an appropriate legal basis.
He said he was looking at ways of restricting the money going to the Libyan regime from oil revenues, with one option being money going into an escrow account for the use of the Libyan people.
Many Tory backbenchers voiced concerns about a no-fly zone, including the chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, Richard Ottaway, who argued they had not worked in Bosnia or Iraq.
The international shift towards support for a UN-endorsed no-fly zone has seen influential US senators such as John Kerry and John McCain backing the plan. There is growing concern that the rebels will be crushed unless they are given some practical military support, even if it is limited to disabling Libyan air control radar.
Speaking at the White House, Obama said: “The violence that has been taking place and perpetrated by the government in Libya is unacceptable.” He said Muammar Gaddafi’s government “will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place there”. Last week Obama said Gaddafi must stand down.
Behind the scenes, US officials are engaged in discussions at the UN and at Nato in Brussels on options ranging from cyber-warfare attacks to arms drops to the rebels, as proposed by some Republicans. There is at present an arms embargo on Libya. Meanwhile, a powerful US air and naval force is assembling off Libya.
Kerry, chairman of the foreign relations committee, argued at the weekend that a no-fly zone would not amount to military intervention, adding: “One could crater the airports and the runways and leave them incapable of using them for a period of time.” The Republican McCain is also pushing for a more proactive policy to support the rebels.
Obama is believed to oppose US military intervention in Libya, partly because it could boost Gaddafi’s standing. But if civilian deaths mount and the humanitarian crisis worsens, his hand may be forced. The US is also concerned that a golden chance to topple Gaddafi may be lost if the crisis is allowed to deteriorate into a low-intensity stalemate, with neither side able to best the other.
Nato defence ministers will meet to discuss options on Thursday. An EU summit on the same subject is due on Friday.
The language among British government officials is more positive than last week, perhaps reflecting less hostile noises coming out of Washington after distinctly cautious comments earlier from the US defence secretary, Robert Gates.
Senior British military officials have warned David Cameron about the dangers of committing British forces to Libya when they may be needed in the event of crises in other countries, notably Bahrain and Oman, officials confirmed. The Gulf states, bases for British warships and aircraft, are of greater significance strategically for the UK than Libya, whose main interest is commercial, they indicated.

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