WASHINGTON, March 11, 2011 — The United States will continue to apply pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and has not taken any options off the table, President Barack Obama said here today.
During a news conference in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the president laid out the administration’s policy on Libya and the removal of Gadhafi.
“The bottom line is that I have not taken any options off the table at this point,” Obama said. “It is important to understand that we have moved about as swiftly as an international coalition has ever moved to impose sanctions on Gadhafi. I am absolutely clear that it is in the interests of the United States and, more importantly, the Libyan people, for Mr. Gadhafi to leave. I have not foreclosed these options.”
Military options are under consideration, the president said.
“I do take very seriously making sure that any decisions I make that involve U.S. military power are well thought through,” Obama said. Any decision on the use of the American military will only happen after close consultations with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and other relevant leaders, he said.
Obama said the first U.S. priority after rioting broke out in eastern Libya was to evacuate American citizens. After that, U.S. officials froze Gadhafi’s assets and imposed sanctions on his regime. The United States also moved via the United Nations to mobilize the international community, Obama said.
“Across the board, we are slowly tightening the noose on Gadhafi,” the president said. “He is more isolated internationally, both through sanctions as well as an arms embargo.”
The United States has provided humanitarian aid to Libyans and refugees from that nation, and is working with NATO allies on the next steps, the president said. The alliance already has in place 24-hour surveillance to monitor the situation on the ground and react rapidly if conditions deteriorate. NATO also is looking to tighten the arms embargo and to provide further humanitarian aid, Obama said.
“There [are] also potential military options, including a no-fly zone,” he added. “NATO will be meeting [March 15] to consider a no-fly zone, and we’ve been in discussions with Arab and African countries to gauge their support for such an action.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will meet with the Libyan opposition in the next several days, and the United States will send an ambassador to the rebels “whose specific job is to interact with the opposition and to find ways to further help them and we will be in close consultation,” Obama said.
The president was careful about the notion of committing U.S. military personnel.
“Any time I send United States armed forces into a potentially hostile situation, there are risks involved, and there are consequences,” he said. “And it is my job as president that we have considered all these risks. It’s also important from a political perspective to, as much as possible, maintain the strong international coalition we have right now.”
The international community needs to find ways to increase the pressure on Gadhafi and further isolate him, the president said.
“Gadhafi has a stash of weapons,” Obama noted. “He not only has some troops who remain loyal to him, but there have been reports he has been hiring mercenaries, and even with the financial freeze we have imposed, he still has some assets.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)