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Obama Warns Gadhafi of Possible Military Action

President Barack Obama makes a statement on Libya in the East Room of the White House in Washington, March 18, 2011
President Barack Obama makes a statement on Libya in the East Room of the White House in Washington, March 18, 2011
Kent Klein

President Barack Obama warned Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi Friday that he must stop attacking civilians or face a no-fly zone enforced with U.S. help. The president said the United States, however, will not send ground troops to Libya.

Obama said the United States is ready to help European and Arab nations impose a no-fly zone on Libyan government forces if they continue military attacks on civilians.

In the White House East Room, Obama angrily said Gadhafi has used brutal suppression against his own people, and has made it clear that he intends to continue.

“Just yesterday, speaking of the city of Benghazi, a city of roughly 700,000 people, he threatened, and I quote, ‘We will have no mercy and no pity.’  No mercy on his own citizens.”

The president said Gadhafi’s violence against the Libyan people could affect the entire Middle East if it is not stopped.

“Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Gadhafi would commit atrocities against his people.  Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered,” said Obama.

Obama spoke one day after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling for a military response to the killing of Libyan civilians.

Some Americans charge that Obama has not acted quickly or forcefully enough on the Libyan situation. But he pointed out that the U.S. and other countries have imposed economic sanctions on Libya and sent humanitarian aid to neighboring countries to prevent a refugee crisis.

The president laid out the demands the U.S., Britain, France and several Arab states are making, including an immediate ceasefire by Gadhafi’s forces.

“That means all attacks against civilians must stop. Gadhafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, pull them back from Adabiya, Mistrata and 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.”

Obama said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Paris on Saturday to meet with America’s European allies and partners to discuss the enforcement of the U.N. resolution.

He did not say exactly what U.S. involvement in a military action would include, but he said American forces could help other countries enforce a no-fly zone.

“We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians, including enabling our European allies and Arab partners to effectively enforce a no-fly zone.”

And the president emphatically stated that U.S. ground forces would not invade Libya.

“The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya. And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal: specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya.”

Before his announcement, the president met with congressional leaders from both parties to discuss the U.S. response to the situation in Libya.

Among the lawmakers was Senator Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Lugar has supported other Obama administration foreign policies in the past, such as the New START nuclear weapons treaty with Russia. But he has said the president should not commit U.S. military forces or equipment to Libya without the approval of Congress.

Earlier, Obama condemned the violence in Yemen, in which government forces fired into a crowd Friday and killed at least 40 people who had been demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down.

In a written statement, Obama called on President Saleh to fulfill his pledge to allow demonstrations to take place peacefully. He also said those responsible for Friday’s violence must be held accountable.

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