Updated 3:30 p.m. est
President Obama said today a no-fly zone over Libya is justified because of fears Moammar Gadhafi and his security forces will commit atrocities against the Libyan people and could destabilize the region.
"And there should be no doubt about his intentions, because he, himself, has made them clear. For decades, he's demonstrated a willingness to use brute force, through his sponsorship of terrorism against the American people as well as others, and through the killings that he has carried out within his own borders," Obama said.
"And just yesterday, speaking of the city of Benghazi, a city of roughly 700,000 people, he threatened, and I quote: 'We will have no mercy and no pity.' No mercy on his own citizens. Now, here's why this matters to us: Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Gadhafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow," Obama added.
The President demanded Gadhafi cease all attacks on civilians immediately, calling the United Nations Security Council ultimatum "non-negotiable."
"Now, once more, Moammar Gadhafi has a choice. The resolution that passed lays out very clear conditions that must be met. 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. Gadhafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi; pull them back from Adjadbiya, Misrata and Zawiya; and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya," Obama said.
"Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable. These terms are not subject to negotiation. If Gadhafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action," he added.
Obama contends Gadhafi lost confidence of Libyans, arguing that the despot's militant action against his people forfeited his right to lead.
"Instead of respecting the rights of his own people, Gadhafi chose the path of brutal suppression. Innocent civilians were beaten, imprisoned and in some cases killed. Peaceful protests were forcefully put down. Hospitals were attacked and patients disappeared. A campaign of intimidation and repression began," snapped a miffed Obama.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Paris this weekend to coordinate with allies to plot a course of action against Gadhafi. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, an early skeptic of a no-fly zone, will huddle with military commanders to formulate a Pentagon strategy. Obama spoke from East Room of the White House after briefing congressional leaders on Libya policy and early plans moving forward against Gadhafi.
Obama repeated that no US ground troops will be deployed as part of multinational force that will impose the UN-mandated no-fly zone. AWACs radar planes and unmanned drones could be deployed as part of a U.S. arsenal, a U.S. source said, emphasizing that the planning is "fluid."
"We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians, including enabling our European allies and Arab partners to effectively enforce a no-fly zone. I have no doubt that the men and women of our military are capable of carrying out this mission. Once more, they have the thanks of a grateful nation, and the admiration of the world," Obama said.
"I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing. The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya, and we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal, specifically the protection of civilians in Libya. In the coming weeks, we will continue to help the Libyan people with humanitarian and economic assistance so that they can fulfill their aspirations peacefully. Now, the United States did not seek this outcome. Our decisions have been driven by Gadhafi's refusal to respect the rights of his people and the potential for mass murder of innocent civilians," Obama added.
Within hours of the United Nations approving a no-fly zone for Libya, forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi reportedly declared an apparent ceasefire in their push towards rebels in Misurata and Benghazi.
It was a major about-face for Gadhafi, who had threatened around the time of the UN vote to send forces door-to-door to execute rebels.
"It sent a strong message," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said of the UN action.
Clinton said she is aware of reports of a ceasefire, but added she wanted more than words from Gadhafi.
"We would have to see actions on the ground," Clinton said. "I want to take this one step at a time."