Tuesday, February 22, 2011

U.S. Still Won't Call for Gadhafi to Step Down

updated 6:15 p.m. est

The United Nations Security Council issued a weak statement this evening calling for "an immediate end to the violence" by the Libyan government against anti-Gadhafi protesters.

"The members of the Security Council called on the Government of Libya to meet its responsibility to protect its population. They called upon the Libyan authorities to act with restraint, to respect human rights and international humanitarian law, and to allow immediate access for international human rights monitors and humanitarian agencies," the statement said.

It was swift action for a body known for its penchant for taking it slow, but it was a slap on the wrist compared to passing a full-blown UN resolution.

The Obama administration had appeared to be waiting for the Security Council to take some type of action before it considers calling for Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi to step down -- even after he delivered a chilling speech that threatened widespread death to the protesters.

"We have joined with the international community in strongly condemning the violence in Libya. And we believe that the government of Libya bears responsibility for what is occurring and must take actions to end the violence," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this afternoon.

"The Security Council, as you know, is meeting today to assess the situation and determine whether there are steps the international community can and should take," she told reporters. "We will take appropriate steps in line with our policies, our values and our laws. But we're going to have to work in concert with the international community."

The UN Security Council met twice today behind closed doors for "consultations," and moved quickly to issue the toothless statement.

Libya's Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who broke yesterday with Gadhafi when he called his government's crackdown on protesters "genocide," had asked the UN to impose a no-fly zone over Libya in order to ground fighter jets and helicopters unleashed on demonstrators.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley wouldn't speculate on the likelihood of a no-fly-zone being set up. The tactic was used after the first Iraq War to help protect Shiites and Kurds from Saddam Hussein's vengeful wrath.

Clinton, meanwhile, said the No. 1 priority for the U.S. is now helping Americans, including diplomatic staff and their families, to get out of Libya safely. There are about 600 Americans registered with the U.S. Embassy in Libya, Crowley said.

Now, as always, the safety and well-being of Americans has to be our highest priority. And we are in touch with many Libyan officials directly and indirectly and with other governments in the region to try to influence what is going on inside Libya," Clinton said.

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