Obama administration seeks more U.N. authority to intervene in Libya

Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 18, 2011; 4:48 PM

The Obama administration pressed Thursday for greater United Nations authority to confront Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi's forces by land, air and sea, while insisting that Arab governments play a central role in any possible military action.

After a day of negotiations Wednesday in the U.N. Security Council, it remained unclear whether the United States or allied governments were making concrete plans to intervene militarily against Gaddafi's forces, which have made significant gains on the ground against rebel strongholds.

But U.S. diplomats sent the clearest signal yet that the Obama administration is willing to contemplate military operations even beyond a no-fly zone to resolve the crisis in the oil-rich nation.

In Congress, lawmakers were split on whether the United States should support a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing military intervention in Libya. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on the council Thursday to pass such a resolution immediately. But in a Thursday morning hearing on the issue, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the senior Republican on the committee, said the administration "should first seek a congressional debate on a declaration of war" against Libya before agreeing to any military intervention.

In the administration's most direct endorsement of a new resolution, William J. Burns, undersecretary of state for policy, told the committee that "we are pressing for a new U.N. Security Council resolution to authorize a range of further actions against the Gaddafi regime."

France announced Thursday morning that its foreign minister, Alain Juppe, was headed to New York "to ensure that this resolution be adopted as swiftly as possible."

A senior French Foreign Ministry official said the resolution would establish a no-fly zone, authorize "all means" to protect civilians, strengthen sanctions against Gaddafi and his family and call for an immediate cease-fire between Libyan government and rebel forces.

The no-fly zone would not bar air traffic from all Libyan airspace but could be enforced over a narrow coastal zone, the official said, in effect protecting the rebels from airstrikes against Benghazi, the rebel capital, and the coastal highway. He also suggested that no-fly zone enforcement could include "a whole range" of military actions short of ground troops. Juppe said earlier this week that Gaddafi's air force could be stopped if the several dozen planes at his disposal and their runways were taken out.

The provision on protecting civilians indicated that Gaddafi's forces would be prevented from carrying out bloody reprisals in Benghazi or elsewhere along the coast.

The French official said France and Britain, with cooperation from one or two unspecified Arab countries, would be ready to start carrying out such a resolution within hours of its approval.

At Thursday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Kerry said the world "cannot simply watch from the sidelines as the Libyan people's quest for democratic reform is met with violence." He hailed the Arab League's call for a U.N. no-fly zone as "an unprecedented signal that the old rules of impunity for autocratic leaders no longer stand," but he warned that Gaddafi's opponents are running out of time.

"The United Nations Security Council should act now - today - to pass a resolution that the United States has shown real leadership in crafting that would provide the range of options necessary to avert a humanitarian disaster," Kerry said. In any case, Gaddafi "has no legitimacy to govern, and the will of the Libyan people will ultimately prevail," he said.

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