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Clinton Cautious on Libyan Cease-Fire

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the State Department about the latest developments in Libya, March 18, 2011

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States wants to see tangible action by the Libyan government to back up its stated intention to have a cease-fire with rebels. Clinton said Friday any negotiating process in Libya would have to end with the departure of Muammar Gadhafi.

Clinton is making clear that the world community is not taking the Libyan cease-fire declaration at face value, and that the Gadhafi government’s pledge to halt military operations will have to be backed up by action on the ground.

In her first comments on Libya since the U.N. Security Council’s authorization late Thursday of military action, including a no-fly-zone to protect Libyan civilians, Clinton said such action must include a pullback of government forces menacing the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

"The first and overwhelmingly urgent action is to end the violence,” she said. “And we have to see a very clear set of decisions that are operationalized on the ground by Gadhafi’s forces to move physically a significant distance away from the east, where they have been pursing their campaign against the opposition."

Clinton, who spoke at a press event with Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore, also said there will have to be an accounting of reports of massacres and abductions by pro-Gadhafi forces.

She said the international community, perhaps through U.N. special envoy Abdul Ilah Khatib, a former Jordanian foreign minister, will have to have a role in any dialogue between Mr. Gadhafi and his opponents.

But she again said the Libyan ruler for four decades has lost his legitimacy and must relinquish power.

"The overwhelming vote by the Security Council, I think, reflects a broad understanding that, Number One: stop the violence. And Number Two: we do believe that a final result of any negotiations would have to be the decision by Colonel Gadhafi to leave,” Clinton said. “But let’s take this one step at a time."

Clinton, just back from a Middle East trip and visits to Egypt and Tunisia, reiterated a call for an end to violence in Yemen, the scene of lethal clashes Friday, and negotiations for a political solution to the upheaval there.