Obama repeats call for Gaddafi to step down, pledges help for Japan

President Barack Obama says the earthquake and tsunami in Japan are a potentially 'catastrophic' disaster, and he says his thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese people. (March 11)
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 12, 2011; 12:10 AM

President Obama called again Friday for Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi to step down but declined to lay out any specific military steps the United States would take to force him from power.

In a news conference at the White House, Obama said imposing a no-fly zone was among the options the administration is considering. But the president did not commit to it, nor would he say the United States would use all means necessary to remove Gaddafi.

Obama also said the administration was "teed up" to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve if gas prices continue to rise but has not decided to do so.

"When it comes to U.S. military actions, whether it's a no-fly zone or other - other options, you've got to balance costs versus benefits. And, you know, I don't take those decisions lightly," Obama said. "But let me be as clear as I can about the desired outcome from our perspective, and that is that Gaddafi step down. And we are going to continue to work with the international community to try to achieve that."

Obama also pledged to help Japan, where an earthquake and tsunami hit Friday, leaving hundreds dead. The tsunami has had little impact so far on the United States, but Obama added, "we are taking this very seriously and we are monitoring the situation very closely."

Obama aides said Thursday that the news conference was called to discuss rising gas prices, but it came as the administration faces criticism from lawmakers in both parties a number of issues, particularly on what critics say is its cautious handling of the Libyan conflict and Obama's refusal to detail a specific plan to fund the government for the rest of the year.

On the budget, the president said he was willing to sign another temporary measure to prevent a government shutdown. Such a stopgap measure is keeping the government funded through March 18. He again declined to spell out specifics he would like in a long-term agreement.

But he criticized a Republican proposal that would cut funding from Planned Parenthood, National Public Radio and other programs he supports.

"My general view is let's not try to sneak political agendas into a budget debate," Obama said. "If Republicans are interested in social issues that they want to promote, they should put a bill on the floor of the House and promote it, have an up-or-down vote, send it over to the Senate. But don't try to use the budget as a way to promote a political or ideological agenda."

In his opening remarks at the news conference, which lasted nearly an hour, Obama laid out a series of steps his administration is taking to reduce gas prices, from efforts to increase domestic oil production to making sure there has not been any illegal activity in the energy markets. He also spoke about the situation in Japan, describing himself as "heartbroken" by the tragedy.

Obama disagreed with the comments of State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who criticized Thursday how Pvt. Bradley Manning is being treated by the military. Manning, accused of passing classified documents to WikiLeaks, has allegedly been forced to strip naked in his cell at night and sleep without clothing while under confinement at the Marine Corps' base in Quantico.

"I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards," Obama said. "They assured me that they are."

Questioned repeatedly by reporters on Libya, he rejected criticism that the administration is not doing enough, saying "we are slowly tightening the noose on Gaddafi."

But he emphasized that the United States was focused on an international diplomatic process to force Gaddafi from power.

"So the bottom line is is that I have not taken any options off the table at this point," Obama said. "I think it is important to understand that we have moved about as swiftly as an international coalition has ever moved to impose sanctions on Gaddafi."

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