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LIBYA: Obama Threatens Military Action if Attacks Resume

Aprille Muscara

WASHINGTON, Mar 18 2011 (IPS) - U.S. President Barack Obama issued an ultimatum to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Friday, less than 24 hours after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution to “take all necessary measures” short of deploying an “occupation force”.

“Gaddafi has a choice,” Obama said in a televised statement. “All attacks against civilians must stop. Gaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, pull them back from Ajdabiya, Misurata, and Az Zawiya, and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya.”

“Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable,” he stressed. “If Gaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action.”

Meanwhile, Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa reportedly declared an immediate cessation of all military operations on Friday, although opposition forces claimed that shelling continued despite the ceasefire announcement.

“The United States will not stand idly by in the face of actions that undermine global peace and security,” Obama declared. “I’ve taken this decision with the confidence that action is necessary but we will not be acting alone.”

The White House has been unwavering in its message that the U.S. response to the situation in Libya, which has witnessed a descent into near-civil war over the past month, must be in concert with the international community, despite some prominent lawmakers’ and analysts’ calls here for unilateral military intervention.

The president said that he had instructed Defence Secretary Robert Gates to coordinate contingency plans with his international counterparts, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be meeting this weekend with U.S. allies and Arab partners on the enforcement of the 10-0 Security Council resolution.

Five countries abstained from Thursday’s vote – Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia – which perhaps serves as an indication of who will not participate in the multilateral coalition that would take action. Italy and Turkey, NATO allies, were also early voices against military intervention in Libya.

What seems to have finally turned the tide in the weeks-long lull after the Security Council’s end of February resolution on Libya, which imposed sanctions and an arms embargo, was endorsement by the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, Libya’s National Transition Council and namely, the Arab League, in the face of continued attacks against civilians.

“[T]he importance of the Arab League’s position supporting robust action in Libya cannot be overstated,” wrote foreign policy expert John Norris in an analysis for the Washington- based Centre for American Progress. “We need to keep a close eye on how this support holds up if allied aerial attacks against Libya commence and things get messier on the ground.” According to Qatar’s state news agency, the small Persian Gulf country announced Friday that it would take part in the multilateral effort to protect civilians in Libya. Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are also said to be among the countries willing to participate.

On the United States’ part, “We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear…including enabling our international allies and Arab partners to enforce a no- fly zone,” Obama said.

In the preceding debate over military action in Libya, critics feared that the U.S. would be expected to shoulder the lion’s share of any operation. High-level Pentagon officials, like Gates and Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, warned that imposing a no-fly zone was no easy task and would require significant investment – not just in dollars but also in equipment and manpower.

In interviews with media outlets this week, Clinton stressed the need for “Arab leadership and participation” in the endeavour to contain the Gaddafi regime’s violence against his people.

Obama said that Britain and France, in addition to the Arab League, had already committed to take a central role in these efforts. “This is precisely how the international community should work, as more nations bear both the responsibility and the cost of enforcing international law,” Obama said.

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