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Clinton: No Decision to Arm Libyan Rebels

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (center) speaks during a conference at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London, March 29, 2011
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (center) speaks during a conference at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London, March 29, 2011

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that world powers have made no decision to arm Libyan rebels, but that the U.N. resolution authorizing the allied air campaign against Libyan government forces does not preclude that.  Clinton spoke in London at the close of a 40-nation conference on Libya.

Clinton stressed that the international coalition enforcing the Libyan no-fly-zone is not near any agreement to give the rebels direct military help.

But at a London news conference before leaving for Washington, the secretary of state said Libya’s opposition Transitional National Council can expect foreign financial assistance.

"We have not made any decision about arming the rebels or providing any arms transfers, so there has not been any need to discuss that at this point," she said.  "We did discuss non-lethal assistance.  We discussed ways of trying to enable the Transition National Council to meet a lot of their financial needs and how we could do that through the international community given the challenges that sanctions pose, but recognizing that they obviously are going to need funds to keep themselves going."

Clinton said the U.S. interpretation of U.N. Security Council resolution 1973, which authorized coalition military operations in Libya, is that it overrode previous measures barring the provision of arms to Libyan parties and that there could be a "legitimate" transfer of arms to the rebel movement.

But British Foreign Secretary William Hague, whose government convened the international conference, said the question of arming the rebels was not on the agenda.

Clinton began her London visit by meeting with Libyan opposition figure Mahmoud Jibril and other members of the transitional council.  She said she remains satisfied with what she termed their "robust" commitment to democracy and broad engagement with Libyans from across the political spectrum.

Clinton again said that Moammar Gadhafi has lost his legitimacy and "must go," but she suggested that a way to a face-saving departure to a third country for the Libyan leader remains open.

"The [U.N.] secretary general’s special envoy will be going to Tripoli and Benghazi, once again to urge Gadhafi to implement a real ceasefire that is not going to be immediately breached by his own forces, to withdraw from those areas that he has taken by force, and to look for a political resolution, which could include his leaving the country," she said. "So, I mean, all of this is in play."

Clinton indicated again that there has been outreach by people in Gadhafi's camp about a way out of the current situation.  But she said it was "just not sensible" to try to predict when the crisis might end.

Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin-Jassim al-Thani urged Gadhafi and his close associates to leave Libya and "not pose any more bloodshed," adding that an offer of an exit might be on the table for only a few days more.

Related video report by Robert Raffaele:

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