The State Department said Friday Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has “forfeited the right” to run the country by turning his armed forces against political opponents. The United States has begun an airlift of relief supplies to third-country nationals fleeing Libya to Tunisia and Egypt.
In further tough rhetoric on the Libyan crisis, the State Department says the only appropriate subject for dialogue between the Gadhafi government and its opponents should be the terms for Mr. Gadhafi’s “departure from the scene.”
State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the fact the Tripoli government has turned “lethal, overwhelming force against its population” is of grave concern to the United States and that U.S. officials believe it has “delegitimized” Mr. Gadhafi “as a leader for Libya.”
“There are rights and there are responsibilities," said P.J. Crowley. "Gadhafi has been a brutal dictator for four decades. And based on what he has done in turning his weapons against his people, rather than engaging them, we believe that he has forfeited his right to lead Libya.”
Crowley said U.S. officials continue to monitor the situation and rule out no options including participation in an international “no-fly zone” regime over Libya, as some in Libya’s armed opposition have called for.
The spokesman noted reservations about the costs and implications of a no-fly zone raised by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others, but said it could well develop into an option the United States would have to “seriously consider as things go forward.”
Earlier Friday at a press event with Costa Rican Foreign Minister Rene Castro, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the immediate U.S. focus is on the welfare of Libyans and the thousands of third-country nationals - guest workers and others - who are fleeing the violence.
“There is a lot of confusion on the ground that is often difficult for us to sort through, to get to what the actual facts are," said Clinton. "But the United States remains deeply concerned about the welfare of the Libyan people. Both the Libyans and those who are fleeing Libya are the subject of our outreach, and where ever possible we will be directly providing assistance.”
Clinton said the United States is chartering airliners to transport people stranded near Libya’s eastern and western borders back to their home countries, and that two U.S. Air Force C-130 transport planes had flown to Tunisia, laden with relief supplies.
Spokesman Crowley said the two planes would be pressed into service Saturday carrying Egyptian nationals from Tunisia back to their home country.
U.S. officials estimate that as many as 1.5 million third-country nationals were working in Libya when the violence broke out. They said about 200,000 had fled the country - with about half of them still waiting for assistance in border areas.
Crowley said the flow of those arriving in Egypt and Tunisia has slowed in recent days, perhaps because pro-Gadhafi forces are impeding their departure.