Washington: The United States has told Muammar Gaddafi he must “go now,” repositioning forces near Libya and raising the prospect of exile for its foe, as it cranked up pressure on his fragile regime.
Washington further stiffened its rhetoric today and said it was talking to Libyan opposition groups, apparently seeking to further destabilise Gaddafi after an uprising against his decades-long rule that has killed more than 1000 people.
President Barack Obama meanwhile planned a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon later today as officials mulled whether to back calls to impose a “no-fly” zone over Libya to protect civilians.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led the US diplomatic thrust in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council and in meetings with global foreign ministers, in a a markedly more abrupt tone than that used by Washington before it evacuated groups of Americans from Libya last week.
“The people of Libya have made themselves clear: it is time for Gaddafi to go – now, without further violence or delay,” Ms Clinton told a meeting of the Geneva-based council.
“Mercenaries and thugs have been turned loose to attack demonstrators.
“There are reports of soldiers executed for refusing to turn their guns on their fellow citizens, of indiscriminate killings, arbitrary arrests and torture.
“Colonel Gaddafi and those around him must be held accountable for these acts.”
The Pentagon, meanwhile, said it was moving naval and air forces into position near Libya, as Western countries weigh possible military intervention.
“We have planners working various contingency plans,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said.
“I think it’s safe to say as part of that we’re repositioning forces to provide for that flexibility once decisions are made.”
Ms Clinton however cautioned that though Washington believed there would be a need for humanitarian intervention in the crisis, no military action was imminent.
“We expect to see Libyans and others trapped in Libya which presents a great danger on the high seas. But there is not any military action involving US naval vessels,” she added.
The White House also ratcheted up pressure on Gaddafi’s government, as he faced opposition attacks and appeared to lose more territory to internal foes.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said “exile” was “one option” that would satisfy US demands for Gaddafi to go, amid an uprising against his rule.
But he would not whether the United States would be prepared to facilitate any departure from Libya for Gaddafi.
“Exile is certainly one option for him to affect that change,” Mr Carney said when asked whether the US would back a solution to the crisis that saw Gaddafi leave his country.
The White House also said that Washington was also in discussions about the feasibility of operating a “no fly” zone over Libya to protect civilians from airborne attacks by forces loyal to Gaddafi.
“We have said that a ‘no fly zone’ is an option we are actively considering, discussing with allies and partners,” Mr Carney said.
A senior US administration official however said that the issue was a “small element in discussions among Clinton and other foreign ministers in Geneva and was not a “dominant theme” of the discussions.
Mr Carney also said Washington was in touch with various factions of the Libyan opposition but said it was premature to start talking about recognising one group or the other.
On Sunday, Ms Clinton said that Washington was prepared to offer “any kind of assistance” to Libyans seeking to overthrow Gaddafi.
“We are just at the beginning of what will follow Gaddafi,” she said yesterday.
In Geneva, US officials meanwhile said that the US would send teams to Libya’s borders with Egypt and Tunisia to help with what may turn out to be a major refugee crisis.
A senior official said on condition of anonymity that Washington was also setting aside funding for humanitarian aid.