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Clinton: US Far From Decision on Libya No-Fly Zone

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a hearing on Capitol Hill, March 2, 2011

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a hearing on Capitol Hill, March 2, 2011

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Obama administration is "a long way" from making any decision about whether to take part in a "no-fly zone" operation over Libya. At the same time, she said situation in Libya has the potential to descend into Somalia-like chaos.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says there may well be a role for U.S. and other countries’ military assets in delivering humanitarian assistance to those caught up in or fleeing the Libyan violence.

But reflecting a sense of caution shared by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Clinton is making clear the United States will not be rushed into joining in a no-fly-zone regime in Libya or other military intervention.

Clinton spoke at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing at which committee chairman John Kerry endorsed administration calls for the ouster of besieged Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, and said the United States should be responsive to reported appeals from Libyan rebels for outside air support.

"The people of Libya are not asking for foreign troops on the ground," said Kerry. "They are committed to doing what is necessary. But they do need the tools to prevent the slaughter of innocents on Libyan streets. And I believe that the global community cannot be on the sidelines while airplanes are allowed to bomb and strafe. A no-fly-zone is not a long-term proposition, assuming the outcome is what we all desire, and I believe we ought to be ready to implement it as necessary."

Clinton said the administration is working to translate outrage over the behavior of the Gadhafi government into action and results, and takes no options, including military ones off the table.

But she said there is a "great deal of caution" in the U.S. defense community about using military forces for anything other than humanitarian missions in Libya and the administration is a "long way" from a decision about a no-fly-zone.

Questioned by Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin, who said Libyan rebels appear to want outside help, Clinton said the case for such action is by no means clear.

"The tough issues about and whether there would be any intervention to assist those who are opposing Libya is very controversial within Libya and the Arab community," said Clinton. "The Arab League just issued a statement today saying that they disapproved and rejected any foreign interference within Libya on behalf of the opposition, even though they have called for Gadhafi to leave. So we are working closely with our partners and allies to try to see what we can do, and we are engaged in very active consideration of the different options that are available."

Clinton, in prepared testimony, said Libya could become a peaceful democracy or face protracted civil war.

She said many al-Qaida militants encountered by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan came from Libya, and that one of the United States’ biggest concerns is Libya descending into chaos and, in her words, "becoming a giant Somalia."