President Obama stopped short on Monday of endorsing calls to impose a no-fly zone over Libya as NATO is considering military options in response to Muammar el-Qaddafi’s use of force against his own people.
Obama also warned members of the Libyan government that Qaddafi and others in his regime will be held accountable for their actions.
“I want to send a very clear message to those who are around Colonel Qaddafi,” Obama said during an appearance at the White House with Australia’s prime minister, Julia Gillard. “It is their choice to make how they operate moving forward, and they will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place there."
The president's comments came as the battle intensified in eastern Libya, with pro-Qaddafi forces attempting to regain large swaths of the country that Qaddafi has ceded to rebels in the weeks-long uprising. Obama also announced that he has released an additional $15 million in funding to aid organizations working on the ground in Libya.
Obama and Gillard met at the White House to discuss shared political and economic interests in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as ongoing unrest in the Middle East.
“We've got NATO, as we speak, consulting in Brussels around a wide range of potential options -- including potential military options,” Obama said.
Pressed about those options at the daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said no options had been taken off the table, but that the use of ground troops was “not at the top of the list at this point.”
Asked about the possibility of arming rebels in Libya – an idea put forward by Sen. Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., over the weekend – Carney cautioned: "It would be premature to send a bunch of weapons to a post office box in eastern Libya. We need to not get ahead of ourselves in terms of the options we are reviewing.”
There are increasing calls from top Democrats and Republicans for Obama to take stronger action against the Qaddafi regime.
Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz., have both called for instituting a no-fly zone over Libya, although they agreed that direct military involvement was inadvisable. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., stopped short of supporting such a zone, saying it was "worth considering."
But Obama declined to say if he supported a no-fly zone. He also declined to answer questions about rising oil prices in the aftermath of the uprisings in Libya and elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East.
Top administration officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, have expressed skepticism about imposing a no-fly zone.
“Lots of people throw around phrases like no-fly zone--they talk about it as though it's just a video game," Daley told NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday.
So far, the administration has suspended embassy operations in Libya, frozen $30 billion in Libyan assets in the United States, and announced support for multilateral sanctions.
Obama said he and Gillard share "a very firm conviction that the violence that's been taking place and perpetrated by the government in Libya is unacceptable." He also thanked Australia for joining the U.S. and others "in imposing swift and firm sanctions, comprehensive sanctions, against the government."