The Obama administration and the UK government moved to tighten the screws on Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi Monday, moving U.S. military assets closer to the country, and freezing $30 million in assets.
Meanwhile, the government of PM David Cameron indicated a possible willingness to arm the Libyan opposition and back a “no fly” zone, which a pair of U.S. Senators had been publicly calling on the Obama administration to do.
From the Guardian:The west was edging towards a possible military confrontation with Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, as the US deployed naval and air force units around Libya, and David Cameron ordered contingency plans for Britain to help enforce a no-fly zone.
The steps were part of a concerted western effort to hasten Gaddafi’s downfall and avoid a prolonged civil war and a humanitarian crisis on Europe’s southern flank.
The US froze $30bn in assets held by Gaddafi and his officials, a record for the United States. France meanwhile dispatched two aircraft full of medical and humanitarian supplies to the rebel-held town of Benghazi, the start of what it said would be “a massive operation of humanitarian support for the populations of liberated territories.”
Cameron said he had told the Ministry of Defence and the chief of the defence staff to draw up plans for a no-fly zone in coordination with Britain’s Nato allies and report back to him within days.
A no-fly zone would be designed principally to prevent attacks on Libyan people by the Gaddafi regime – mainly by his helicopter gun ships.
Cameron suggested the UK might even consider arming the Libyan opposition forces if Tripoli used more violence to crush demonstrations.
Officials said discussions on a range of military options began last week between British and US officials at the Pentagon. They said that the support of US and British armed forces might also be required to protect corridors to channel humanitarian relief into Libya through Tunisia and Egypt, if further conflict brought about a mass displacement of the population and a collapse in the food supply.
The prime minister discussed imposing a no-fly zone over Libya in a telephone call with president Nicolas Sarkozy of France. An emergency summit of all the EU’s 27 leaders is now expected to be held in Brussels next week.
Gaddafi remained defiant. “They love me, all my people love me,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “They would die to protect me.” He again blamed al-Qaida for the rebellions. “This is al-Qaida, not my people,” Gaddafi said. “They come from outside.”
The military deployment and heightened rhetoric coming from Washington and London were designed to multiply the pressure on Gaddafi and his top officials, but there are serious political obstacles. …
Despite the bluster from Cameron, both the U.S. and UK said any military intervention woud require NATO coordination and U.N. Security Council approval, which is not at all guaranteed because Russia and China could veto such a move.
Which leads to this queasily familiar passage:
Resistance in the security council and within Nato would leave Washington and London to draw on a “coalition of the willing” to carry out a humanitarian intervention, something both are extremely reluctant to do. A diplomatic source at the UN headquarters in New York said however that more security council meetings were likely this week and the pressure for action would rise if the bloodshed and suffering continued to escalate in Libya. “We have not yet reached the high-water mark for council involvement,” the source said.
Oh, here we go.
To the BBC:
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is “delusional” and “unfit to lead”, the US ambassador to the UN has said.
Susan Rice was speaking after the embattled Colonel Gaddafi was interviewed by the BBC and others.
Ms Rice said the fact he was laughing at questions while “slaughtering his own people” showed that he was disconnected from reality.
In the interview, Col Gaddafi said he was loved by all his people and denied there had been any protests in Tripoli.
World foreign ministers earlier condemned attacks on Libyan civilians and the European Union imposed sanctions including an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban on Col Gaddafi and his close entourage.
Col Gaddafi is facing a massive challenge to his 41-year rule, with protesters in control of towns in the east.
He was answering questions in the capital Tripoli from BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, US TV network ABC, and the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper.
He accused Western countries of abandoning Libya and said that they had no morals and wanted to colonise the country.
When asked whether he would resign, he said he could not step down as he did not have an official position – and insisted that the power in the country was with the people.
Col Gaddafi challenged those, including UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who have accused him of having money abroad, to produce evidence. He said he would “put two fingers in their eye”.
Col Gaddafi said true Libyans had not demonstrated but those who had come on to the streets were under the influence of drugs supplied by Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.
He said those people had seized weapons and that his supporters were under orders not to shoot back. …
US President Barack Obama met UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the White House on Monday and both expressed concern at the rising violence and called for a legitimately elected president.
Mr Ban said of Col Gaddafi: “He lost legitimacy when he declared war on his people.”
More of the BBC interview with the “mad dog” Qaddafi here.
Christiane Amanpour’s ABC interview here.
More on the military options:
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said US forces could be used for delivering humanitarian assistance.
Meanwhile, the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, told reporters in Washington the US was “actively and seriously” considering establishing a no-fly zone and was in talks with Nato and other potential military partners.
Repositioned US forces could be used to enforce a no-fly zone to prevent Col Gaddafi’s aircraft attacking opposition supporters, BBC correspondents say.
“We have planners working various contingency plans, and I think it’s safe to say as part of that we’re repositioning forces to provide for that flexibility once decisions are made,” Pentagon spokesman Col Dave Lapan said.
The BBC’s Andrew North, in Washington, says the Pentagon’s announcement seems partly designed to send a message to Col Gaddafi.
It is still not clear if there will be sufficient support at the United Nations Security Council for a no-fly zone, our correspondent says.
US commanders could turn to the USS Enterprise, currently in the Red Sea, as well as the amphibious ship the USS Kearsarge, which has a fleet of helicopters and about 2,000 Marines aboard, AFP news agency reported.
In addition, the US maintains a large naval air station in Sigonella, Sicily, less than an hour’s flight from Libya.
Mrs Clinton said on Monday that the US was leaving all its options on the table in dealing with Libya.
Although she did not discuss military options, Mrs Clinton said that as long as Col Gaddafi remained in power the US would consider a range of options against Libya’s rulers.
“Through their actions, they have lost the legitimacy to govern. And the people of Libya have made themselves clear: it is time for Gaddafi to go – now, without further violence or delay,” she told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Western nations were looking at setting up a humanitarian “corridor” in neighbouring Tunisia or Egypt to help refugees.
Hugo Chavez appears to be coming undone …
And in the U.S., the carping at the administration goes on, and on, and on…