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White House Defends US Response to Libya Unrest

U.S. President Barack Obama with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (right) speaks about Libya at the White House,. February 23, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (right) speaks about Libya at the White House,. February 23, 2011

President Barack Obama’s spokesman denied Tuesday that the United States is moving too slowly in responding to the violence in Libya.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said events in Libya are moving with remarkable speed and that the Obama administration is responding at the same pace.

“Would anyone have predicted, two weeks ago or three weeks ago, that Colonel [Moammar] Gadhafi would be in this position that he is in now - where great swaths of the country are no longer in the control of his regime, where the entire international community, including Arab nations, have arrayed against him and called him illegitimate and not credible as a leader,” he asked.

Carney told reporters that the United States has done “quite a lot” unilaterally and is working with partners such as the European Union and the United Nations to respond to the violence in Libya.

The White House spokesman said the U.S. sanctions, ordered last Friday, already have led to $30 billion in Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s money being frozen.

When asked about U.S. warships being moved up the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean Sea, Carney said Washington is preparing for contingencies, including humanitarian assistance. He said the administration is not ruling out any options.

Carney did not say whether or when President Obama might deliver a speech focusing on the Middle East unrest. He did, however, say that the president might address the situation on Thursday, when he and visiting Mexican President Felipe Calderon speak to reporters at the White House.

“There are many ways that the president can, has and will address what has been happening in the Middle East," he said. "He has spoken now, I believe, four times on this issue, and will speak again on this issue. In fact, I believe he will speak on it - Is it Thursday that the president of Mexico will be here? You may hear from him on that day about this.”

Carney also responded to statements by Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh that the Obama administration is working with Israel to destabilize the Arab world.

“We have made clear to the leadership in Yemen, as we have to the leadership in other countries, that they need to focus on the political reforms that they need to implement to respond to the legitimate aspirations of their people," he said. "We do not think scapegoating will be the kind of response that the people of Yemen or the people in other countries will find adequate.”

Mr. Obama’s spokesman also said it is clear that the Mideast unrest is not inspired by al-Qaida, as some leaders in the region have charged ...

". . . but is, in fact, demonstrative of a movement within this region of the world that is wholly counter to everything that al-Qaida believes in, and to the methods by which they believe change should come about - peaceful, nonviolent, pluralistic, nonsectarian demonstrations," he said. "That is not in the al-Qaida manual.”

Carney said the United States is reaching out to those in Libya’s opposition who are interested in creating a government that respects rights and meets the aspirations of the people. He said U.S. officials are using diplomatic and business channels as well as non-governmental organizations to hold these discussions.