President Barack Obama issued his strongest call yet on Thursday for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to leave. The president also authorized the use of U.S. military aircraft to help Egyptians who have fled to Tunisia to return home to Egypt.
President Obama said the United States and the world are outraged by what he called the “appalling” violence against the Libyan people. And he urged Libya’s leader to step down.
“The violence must stop. Moammar Gadhafi has lost legitimacy to lead, and he must leave," the president said. "Those who perpetrate violence against the Libyan people will be held accountable.”
In a joint press conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon at the White House, Mr. Obama issued his first on-camera statement calling on Mr. Gadhafi to step down. The president had earlier called for the Libyan leader’s ouster in a written statement after speaking by telephone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Mr. Obama said violence against innocent civilians will be monitored, and that Gadhafi supporters will be held accountable. He said supporters who might be calculating which way the conflict is moving should abandon the longtime Libyan leader.
“They should know history is moving against Col. Gadhafi, and that their support for him and their willingness to carry out orders that are direct violence against citizens is something that, ultimately, they will be held accountable for,” the president said.
Mr. Obama said he is considering all military and nonmilitary options to stop the violence in Libya, including imposing a no-fly zone on the Libyan military.
Despite calls for a no-fly zone, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other U.S. officials have talked about the difficulty of such an operation.
The president said he is working with the international community to devise solutions, especially in case of a humanitarian disaster.
“There is a danger of a stalemate that, over time, could be bloody, and that is something that we are obviously considering," President Obama said. "So what I want to make sure of is that the United States has full capacity to act, potentially rapidly.”
President Obama said he has also authorized the use of U.S. military aircraft to help Egyptian refugees trapped in Tunisia.
“I have, therefore, approved the use of U.S. military aircraft to help move Egyptians who have fled to the Tunisian border, to get back home to Egypt. I have authorized USAID to charter additional civilian aircraft to help people from other countries find their way home,” Mr. Obama said.
The U.S. Navy has moved two ships into the Mediterranean Sea to be ready to help in any military operation related to the situation in Libya.
Pentagon officials say no decision has been made to start a military operation, and neither the United Nations nor NATO has authorized one.