White House not at 'decision point' on Libya

WASHINGTON (AP) — Searching for answers as Libya’s fighting raged on, President Barack Obama’s national security team on Wednesday weighed how to force Moammar Gadhafi from power and halt his brutal crackdown on those rebelling against his regime. But the White House said no action was imminent and set no timeline as attention shifted to a pivotal NATO session in Brussels.

“We’re not at a decision point,” Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said as the White House sought hard to inject perspective into a fast-changing conflict. Gadhafi’s forces pounded rebels with artillery and gunfire in at least two major cities on Wednesday, adding more pressure on nations and international bodies to figure out what to do — and whether they can agree.

The NATO alliance said it was planning for any eventuality in the Libyan crisis. But with Defense Secretary Robert Gates preparing to join a meeting of alliance defense chiefs to discuss military options on Thursday, there was little sign they would agree to set up a no-fly zone over the North African country.

The United States held to its right to show its military might unilaterally, including potential naval maneuvers closer to Libyan shores. But Obama’s admonition for international action — not go-it-alone-force — remains a driving principle of any military intervention.

That approach offers broader legitimacy and shared burden, but also more complicated politics.

“We believe it’s important that this not be an American or a NATO or a European effort; it needs to be an international one,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday on CBS. She conceded divisions within the United Nations Security Council but said that a “good, solid international package” was being considered.

Wednesday’s high-level meeting in the White House Situation Room was not expected to yield a breakthrough of news; Obama’s aides cast it as one in a series of discussions as the president’s top security advisers sought to rally around recommendations for him. The review includes assessing the cost and potential effectiveness of imposing a no-fly zone operation over all or part of Libya, in which the U.S. and partner nations could patrol with warplanes to deter Gadhafi from using his air force to bomb civilians.

Carney said he had no timetable for decisions, adding he did not want to even suggest that more action will be taken. He offered a broad defense of what the United States has already done on its own and with the United Nations in response to the crisis, from freezing assets to imposing sanctions, and insisted no such response has ever happened faster.

The Obama administration has shown little enthusiasm for the no-fly zone idea in reviewing a series of options. Gates has said that beginning the flights would require an assault on Libyan air defenses, a step tantamount to war. Other officials have noted that the tactic may be ineffective in part because Gadhafi appears to be using his planes sparingly.

Nonetheless, a no-fly zone has become the best-known option and the one that European allies, in particular, consider an effective international response.

Britain and France are pushing for the U.N. to create a no-fly zone over the country, and while the U.S. may be persuaded to sign on, such a move is unlikely to win the backing of veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and China, which traditionally object to such steps as infringements on national sovereignty.

U.S. military officials are providing Obama with options that can range from humanitarian assistance and a show of force to war-fighting tactics. Military action could include creating and enforcing the no-fly zone, using Air and Navy forces in the region to jam and take out Libya’s air defenses, and ramping up intelligence and surveillance in the region.

There are at least five major U.S. warships in the Mediterranean, including the USS Kearsarge with its Marine contingent on board. And there are Air Force fighters, bombers, tankers and electronic warfare aircraft easily available from bases in Germany, England and Italy.

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