By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 26, 2011; 11:49 PM
UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Saturday night to impose military and financial sanctions against Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and his inner circle and to refer his regime's crackdown on protesters to a war crimes tribunal for an investigation of possible crimes against humanity.
The move came as President Obama for the first time called on Gaddafi to step down, deepening the Libyan leader's international isolation as he struggles to contain a revolt that threatens his 41-year rule. It also marked the first U.S. vote in support of a Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court, which the United States has not joined.
Speaking by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama said that "when a leader's only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now," according to a White House account of the conversation. The statement brings U.S. policy in line with the position that European leaders adopted several days ago.
Obama had taken a more cautious approach, in part because he feared that hundreds of Americans in Tripoli could be in danger if he called for regime change. Those diplomats and other citizens have now been evacuated.
In a statement Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. would work with others to provide humanitarian assistance to Libyans in need. "We will continue to look at the full range of options to hold the Libyan government accountable and support the Libyan people," she said. "Moammar Gaddafi has lost the confidence of his people and he should go without further bloodshed and violence."
The hardening U.S. position came as Gaddafi's renegade U.N. envoy endorsed a draft Security Council resolution Saturday that would impose a range of military and financial sanctions on the Libyan government and authorize the International Criminal Court to investigate.
In a letter to the Security Council president, Libyan envoy Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgam wrote that his delegation "supports the measures proposed in the draft resolution to hold to account those responsible for the armed attacks against the Libyan civilians, including [through] the International Criminal Court."
A day earlier, Shalgam announced in a tearful appearance before the Security Council that he had broken ranks with his longtime friend, mentor and leader. That announcement followed a wave of defections by Gaddafi's diplomatic corps, leaving the Libyan ruler essentially without a voice or influence outside the country.
The drama unfolded as the 15-nation council considered a package of sanctions, including an arms embargo, a travel ban and an asset freeze on Gaddafi and his associates.
Shalgam's missive appeared calculated to overcome resistance to an international criminal investigation, particularly from China, Russia and India, which have expressed concern that an investigation could inflame, rather than calm, the situation on the ground.
After Shalgam's appeal, Russia and India agreed to support the provision authorizing an investigation. China, whose delegation requested time to seek instruction from Beijing, was the only holdout. It ultimately reversed its position and backed the vote, citing broad African and Arab support for the initiative.
The resolution imposed a travel ban on Gaddafi and 15 relatives and loyalists. Six of those individuals, including Gaddafi himself and his immediate family members, are also subject to a freeze of their assets.
In addition, the resolution calls on Libya to respect press freedom and to permit the entry of relief workers, medical supplies and other humanitarian assistance. It also urges Libya "to ensure the safety of all foreign nationals and facilitate the departure of those wishing to leave the country."
The arms embargo is designed to prevent Gaddafi from resupplying loyalist forces, including thousands of African mercenaries.
Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly I. Churkin, secured a provision precluding the United States and European powers from using the resolution as a pretext for military intervention in Libya.
The original text of the resolution, drafted by Britain, included broad language authorizing states "to adopt all measures necessary" to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance. European diplomats said the language was not intended as a legal basis for a military invasion of Libya.