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U.S. Lays Out Sanctions on Libya as “First Step”

Aprille Muscara

WASHINGTON, Feb 25 2011 (IPS) - As the bloodshed of protestors in Libya continues unabated for the eighth day in a row, the White House took its strongest stance against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime Friday, announcing that the United States will impose unilateral sanctions and has suspended its embassy operations in the oil-producing country.

“We are initiating a series of steps at the unilateral level and the multilateral level to pressure the regime in Libya to stop killing its own people,” White House spokesperson Jay Carney told reporters Friday.

“Additionally, the United States has suspended the very limited military cooperation it had with Libya,” freezing pending military sales and bilateral events, he said.

The Pentagon began re-engaging with its Libyan counterparts in 2009, when Tripoli promised to cease its weapons of mass destruction programmes and compensate terrorism victims.

The Treasury Department also instructed U.S. banks to closely monitor the movement of assets related to the events in Libya for any misappropriation of state funds or illegal payments, Carney said. Switzerland announced Thursday that it had ordered a freeze of the Gaddafi regime’s assets.

“Finally, the U.S. is using the full extent of its intelligence capabilities to monitor the Gaddafi regime’s actions and we are particularly vigilant for evidence of further violence or atrocities committed against the Libyan people,” Carney announced.

“This is a first step and, obviously, we continue to review our options going forward, he said, adding “[T]he steps that we take in the near future are not the only steps we’re prepared to take.”

When asked whether military action was being considered, Carney said that all options are on the table. The Barack Obama administration has come under some scrutiny by hawkish critics this week, who have argued that its response to the violent developments in the North African country has been delayed and hasn’t been forceful enough.

“There has never been a time when this much has been done this quickly,” Carney argued. “The U.S. has acted in concert with our international partners and with great deliberation and haste.”

The press secretary said he waited to announce Washington’s decision to impose sanctions and temporarily suspend its diplomatic activities until after it was confirmed that a ferry carrying U.S. citizens and embassy staff arrived in Malta and a chartered plane headed to Istanbul containing more Americans and the remaining embassy employees safely departed Tripoli Friday.

In addition to measures Washington is taking on its own, ” [w]e have decided to move forward with…coordinated sanctions with our European allies and multilateral efforts to hold the Libyan government accountable through the United Nations,” Carney noted.

Obama spoke with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Friday morning and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi Thursday in an effort to coordinate an allied response.

“He will continue these consultations to build international consensus for strong measures in the days to come,” Carney said.

On Monday, Obama will meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon here to “discuss the diplomatic, legal and other actions needed to put a stop to violence against civilians in Libya.”

U.N. figures place the Libyan death toll at over 1,000, with some approximations as high as 2,000 protestors killed at the order of Gaddafi’s regime.

Obama and Ban “will also discuss the range of activities that U.N. agencies and the international community can undertake to address the significant humanitarian needs created by this crisis,” Carney added.

The world body estimates that some 22,000 Libyan refugees have fled to Tunisia and 15,000 to Egypt, with many internally displaced residents unable to leave. Meanwhile, the U.N.’s World Food Programme has expressed concern about the country’s food supplies.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Geneva this weekend, where she will address the U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday.

The UNHRC adopted a highly critical resolution Friday morning that strongly condemned the “gross and systematic human rights violations committed in Libya, including indiscriminate armed attacks against civilians, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of peaceful demonstrators, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity.”

Before its adoption, the entire Libyan delegation in Geneva resigned in protest of the Gaddafi regime’s violence against its citizens.

The resolution, adopted by consensus, also launched an independent commission of inquiry to investigate these alleged violations of international human rights law and recommends that the U.N. General Assembly suspend Libya’s membership in the council.

“The United States strongly supports these efforts and is already closely working with our international partners to carry out this suspension, which will be acted on by the General Assembly early next week,” Carney noted.

The U.N. Security Council also met Friday to discuss a draft resolution that could include an arms embargo, targeted sanctions and a recommendation for the International Criminal Court to investigate whether the Libyan government is carrying out crimes against humanity in its attacks on peaceful protestors.

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