Obama hopes Gaddafi will ultimately step down

By Patricia Zengerle

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said on Tuesday the objective of a U.S. and allied military campaign is to apply steady pressure on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi so he will “ultimately step down” from power.

Obama, accused by many U.S. lawmakers of launching military operations in Libya without a clear end in sight, told NBC News he believed a Western air assault and international sanctions have left Gaddafi “greatly weakened” and unable to control most of his country.

Obama gave interviews to NBC, ABC and CBS while on a trip to New York to explain why he ordered the use of force in Libya, a day after delivering a major speech on the topic. He did not rule out providing military hardware to Libyan rebels.

In a stop to dedicate the new U.S. mission to the United Nations, across the street from U.N. headquarters, Obama repeated the case he made in a speech to the nation on Monday night that the situation in Libya had left him with no choice but to act.

“All that’s necessary for evil to triumph is that good people and responsible nations stand by and do nothing. There are times … moments such as now in the situation in Libya, where our conscience and our common interests compel us to act,” he said.

To an audience that included Libya’s former ambassador to the United Nations and ambassadors from members of the Security Council, Obama said the United States will work with other countries, not unilaterally.

“That’s how the international community should work — more nations; the United States right there at the center of it, but not alone — everybody stepping up, bearing their responsibilities, carrying the costs of upholding peace and security,” he said.

Some lawmakers have seized upon Obama’s policy — using airstrikes and planes to protect Libyan civilians but not to try to oust Gaddafi — as evidence of a flawed strategy.

MILITARY ACTION, SANCTIONS

Speaking 11 days after authorizing the U.S. to take part in coordinated strikes against Gaddafi’s forces to protect Libyan civilians, Obama argued his strategy of military action and sanctions pressure will see Gaddafi go sooner or later.

“And so our expectation is that as we continue to apply steady pressure, not only militarily but also through these other means, that Gaddafi will ultimately step down,” the president told NBC.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in the U.S. Congress, said hoping that Gaddafi will leave is not an adequate policy.

“I just don’t think that that is a strategy and when you listen to all of what is going on and all the words, it really is nothing more than hope,” Boehner, who has repeatedly raised concerns about Obama’s Libya policy, told a news conference.

“If Gaddafi doesn’t leave, how long will NATO be there to enforce a no-fly zone? That is a very troubling question.”

Critics worry failure to remove Gaddafi will mean a prolonged stalemate between his forces and rebels opposing his 41-year rule, tying the United States to a third war in a Muslim country while still engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama gave a nudge to Gaddafi’s inner circle in his interview with ABC. “I think what we’re seeing is that the circle around Gaddafi understands that the noose is tightening, that their days are probably numbered, and they are going to have to think through what their next steps are,” Obama said.

Amid questions about who the Libyan rebels actually are, Obama said the United States has not ruled out providing military hardware to the rebels pressuring Gaddafi. “I’m not ruling it in, I’m not ruling it out,” Obama said on NBC.

And he said he had already agreed to provide nonlethal aid such as communications equipment, medical supplies and perhaps transportation aid to the Libyan opposition.

“We are going to be looking at all options to provide support to the Libyan people so that we can transition toward a more peaceful and more stable Libya,” Obama said on NBC.

With unrest convulsing Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, Obama said his Libyan policy should not necessarily be viewed as an “Obama Doctrine,” saying each country in the region is different.

While force was used in Libya, he said, this “does not mean that somehow we are going to go around trying to use military force to impose or apply certain forms of government.”

(Additional reporting by Alister Bull in Washington; Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Todd Eastham and Christopher Wilson)

Obama hopes Gaddafi will ultimately step down