Obama Warns Libya on Allied Action
March 18, 2011
Obama Warns Libya on Allied Action
By ELISABETH BUMILLER, DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and ALAN COWELL
WASHINGTON — President Obama ordered Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi on Friday to implement a cease-fire immediately and stop all attacks on Libyan civilians or face military action from the United States and its allies in Europe and the Arab world.
In one of the most forceful statements he has issued from the White House Mr. Obama said that his demands were not negotiable: Colonel Qaddafi had to pull his forces back from major cities in Libya or the United States and its allies would stop him. The president said that he was forced to act because Colonel Qaddafi had turned on his own people and had shown, Mr. Obama said, “no mercy on his own citizens.”
The president said that with the passage on Thursday night of a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing military action against Colonel Qadaffi to protect Libyan civilians, the United States would not act alone, and in fact that France, Britain and Arab nations would take the lead. That is the clear desire of the Pentagon, which has been strongly resistant to another American war in the Middle East. Mr. Obama said flatly that American ground forces would not enter Libya.
“Muammar Qaddafi has a choice,” he said. “The United States, the United Kingdom, France and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately. That means all attacks against civilians must stop.”
“Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable,” Mr. Obama said in the East Room of the White House. “If Colonel Qaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences. The resolution will be enforced through military action.”
He set no deadline and gave no hint when the military action would commence, but said that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would travel to Paris on Saturday to consult with allies on further action. An allied military strike against Libya did not appear to be imminent.
Specifically, Mr. Obama said, Colonel Qaddafi must stop his troops from advancing against the town of Benghazi and pull them back from other cities, and water, electricity and gas supplies must be allowed in, as well as other humanitarian aid.
He spoke as the United States, Britain and France pushed forward against Libya on Friday as they declared that a cease-fire abruptly announced by Colonel Qaddafi’s government was not enough, and as reports came in from the region of continuing attacks in some places.
Mrs. Clinton, echoing remarks hours earlier by Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, said in Washington on Friday morning that the United States would be “not responsive or impressed by words.”‘ She said that the allies would “have to see actions on the ground, and that is not yet at all clear.”
Those actions included, she said, a clear move by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces away from the east, where they were threatening a final assault on the rebels’ stronghold in Benghazi.
Only hours after the United Nations Security Council voted late Thursday to authorize military action and a no-fly zone, Libya executed a remarkable about-face on Friday, saying it would call an “immediate cease-fire and the stoppage of all military operations” against rebels seeking to oust Colonel Qaddafi.
But people fleeing the eastern city of Ajdabiya said government forces were still bombing and conducting other assaults at 4 p.m. local time.
A spokesman for the rebels, Mustafa Gheriani, said that attacks continued against both that city and Misurata, in the west, according to news agency reports. “He’s bombing Misurata and Ajdabiya from 7 a.m. this morning until now,” Mr. Gehriani said, according to The Associated Press.
The announcement of cease-fire came from Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa after Western powers said they were preparing imminent airstrikes to prevent Libyan forces from launching a threatened final assault on Benghazi.
In London, Mr. Cameron told the BBC of Colonel Qaddafi: “We will judge him by his actions, not his words.”
Mr. Cameron told the House of Commons that the British Air Force would deploy Tornado jets and Eurofighter Typhoon warplanes, “as well as air-to-air refueling and surveillance aircraft.”
“Preparations to deploy these have already started, and in the coming hours they will move to airbases from where they can take the necessary action,” Mr. Cameron said.
The Typhoon is a fighter jet armed with air-to-air missiles for shooting down airplanes, as well as laser-guided bombs for targets on the ground. The Tornado is especially well suited for attacking runways — that was its first combat mission, in the Persian Gulf war, when the planes swooped in to bomb runways in Iraq, facing thick anti-aircraft defenses that shot down several of the planes.
In Paris the French foreign ministry spokesman, Bernard Valero, said that Colonel Qaddafi “begins to be afraid, but on the ground, the threat hasn’t changed.” He added, “We have to be very cautious.”
Earlier François Baroin, a French government spokesman, told RTL radio that action would come “rapidly,” perhaps within hours, after the United Nations resolution authorized “all necessary measures” to protect civilians.
But he insisted the military action was “not an occupation of Libyan territory.” Rather, he said, it was intended to protect the Libyan people and “allow them to go all the way in their drive, which means bringing down the Qaddafi regime.”
Other French officials said that Mr. Baroin was speaking to heighten the warning to Colonel Qaddafi, and that in fact any military action was not that imminent, but was still being coordinated with allies including Britain and the United States.
Obama administration officials said that allied action against Libya had to include the participation of Arab countries and were insistent, as one senior official put it, that the red, green and black of Arab nations’ flags be prominent in military operations. As of Thursday night, the United States said it had firm commitments from both Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to contribute fighter jets to the effort, and that Jordan had also agreed to take part, although to what extent was not yet clear by Friday.
The administration also spoke to Egyptian officials about taking part but Egypt — the leading military power of the Arab world — was concerned that air strikes could endanger some million Egyptians who live in Libya. In addition, protesters only last month toppled the 30-year regime of President Hosni Mubarak and Egypt’s transitional military government remains fragile.
Administration officials said it remained unclear on Friday morning which country would take the lead as the air traffic controller of an operation that might involve waves of fighter jets from multiple countries in the skies above Libya, taking turns or at the same time. But the United States was expected to play a major role, as were Britain and France.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Mr. Cameron will attend the meeting in Paris on Saturday with European, European Union, African Union and Arab League officials to discuss Libya, Mr. Sarkozy’s office announced. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations will also take part, his office said.
Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, which had supported the no-fly proposal, told Reuters on Friday: “‘The goal is to protect civilians first of all, and not to invade or occupy.”
Apparently pulling back from the increasingly bellicose statements that came as recently as Thursday from Colonel Qaddafi and his son Seif al-Islam, Mr. Koussa — his hands shaking as he read a statement at a news conference in Tripoli on Friday afternoon — said the Qaddafi government would comply with the United Nations resolution by halting combat operations.
“Libya has decided an immediate cease-fire and the stoppage of all military operations,” Mr. Koussa said. He did not take questions.
It was not immediately possible to confirm that military action. Mr. Koussa did not say whether the Libyan government intended to restore water, electricity and telecommunications to Misurata.
He expressed “our sadness” that the imposition of a no-fly zone would also stop commercial and civilian aircraft, saying such measures “will have a negative impact on the general life of the Libyan people.”
And he called it “strange and unreasonable” that the resolution authorized the use of force against the Qaddafi government, “and there are signs that this may indeed take place.” Mr. Koussa called the resolution a violation of Libyan sovereignty as well as of the United Nations charter, and repeated a call for a “fact-finding mission” to evaluate the situation on the ground.
Government minders told journalists in Tripoli on Friday that they could not leave their hotel for their own safety, saying that in the aftermath of the United Nations vote, residents might attack or even shoot foreigners. The extent of the danger was unclear.
Shortly before Mr. Koussa spoke Mr. Cameron told Parliament in London: “This is about protecting the Libyan people and saving lives. The world has watched Qaddafi brutally crushing his own people. We expect brutal attacks. Qaddafi is preparing for a violent assault on Benghazi.”
“Any decision to put the men and women of our armed forces into harm’s way should only be taken when absolutely necessary,” he said. “But I believe that we cannot stand back and let a dictator whose people have rejected him kill his people indiscriminately. To do so would send a chilling signal to others.”
“The clock is now ticking,” Mr. Cameron said. “We need a sense of urgency because we don’t want to see a bloodbath in Benghazi.” Responding to criticism from members of Parliament about getting Britain involved militarily, Mr. Cameron retorted: “To pass a resolution like this and then just stand back and hope someone in the region would enforce it is wrong.”
Before the cease-fire was announced, the Libyan leader signaled his intentions in Benghazi.
“We will come house by house, room by room,” Colonel Qaddafi said Thursday on a radio call-in show before the United Nations vote. It’s over. The issue has been decided.” To those who continued to resist, he vowed: “We will find you in your closets. We will have no mercy and no pity.”
In a television broadcast later, he added: “The world is crazy, and we will be crazy, too.”
Before Mr. Koussa’s announcement of a cease-fire, forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi unleashed a barrage of fire against Misurata, news reports said, while his son was quoted as saying government forces would encircle Benghazi. Eurocontrol, Europe’s air traffic control agency, said in Brussels on Friday that Libya had closed its airspace. It was not immediately clear whether loyalist troops had begun honoring the cease-fire.
The Security Council vote seemed to have divided Europeans, with Germany saying it would not take part while Norway was reported as saying it would. In the region, Turkey was reported to have registered opposition, but Qatar said it would support the operation.
On Thursday night in New York, after days of often acrimonious debate played out against a desperate clock, and with Colonel Qaddafi’s troops within 100 miles of Benghazi, the Security Council authorized member nations to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, diplomatic code words calling for military action.
Diplomats said the resolution — which passed with 10 votes, including that of the United States, and abstentions from Russia, China, Germany, Brazil and India — was written in sweeping terms to allow for a wide range of actions, including strikes on air-defense systems and missile attacks from ships.
Benghazi erupted in celebration at news of the resolution’s passage. “We are embracing each other,” said Imam Bugaighis, spokeswoman for the rebel council in Benghazi. “The people are euphoric. Although a bit late, the international society did not let us down.”
A Pentagon official said Thursday that decisions were still being made about what kind of military action, if any, the United States might take with the allies against Libya. The official said that contingency planning continued across a full range of operations, including a no-fly zone, but that it was unclear how much the United States would become involved beyond providing support.
That support is likely to consist of much of what the United States already has in the region — Awacs radar planes to help with air traffic control should there be airstrikes, other surveillance aircraft and about 400 Marines aboard two amphibious assault ships in the region, the Kearsarge and the Ponce.
The Americans could also provide signal-jamming aircraft in international airspace to muddle Libyan government communications with its military units.
Elisabeth Bumiller reported from Washington, David D. Kirkpatrick from Tripoli, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Kareem Fahim from eastern Libya; Dan Bilefsky from the United Nations; Mark Landler from Washington; Steven Erlanger from Paris; Julia Werdigier from London; Helene Cooper from Washington; and Steven Lee Myers from Tunis.