President Obama on Moammar Gadhafi': 'The Noose Is Tightening'

Photo: Pres. Obama speaks with Diane SawyerPlayABC News
WATCH One on One With Barack Obama

President Obama believes that Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi's inner circle is realizing that the "noose is tightening, that their days are numbered."

The president spoke with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer one day after addressing the nation on his reason for joining with NATO and other allies in imposing a no-fly zone over Libya and suggested that it is pressuring Gadhafi into stepping down.

"I think what we're seeing is that the circle around Gadhafi understands that the noose is tightening, that their days are probably numbered, and they are going to have to think through what their next steps are," the president said.

The president said there are signals Gadhafi and his allies can give to indicate they are ready to go but until that point, the U.S. and its international allies will continue to apply pressure.

"They're going to have to think through what their next steps are. But as I have been clear throughout, there are certain things that are non-negotiable," he said. "He's got to pull his troops out of places like Mistrata?he's got to stand down with respect to his troops." Watch Diane Sawyer's interview with President Obama tonight on World News at 6:30pm E.T.

The president declined to rule out sending arms to the Libyan rebels, but said if his administration wanted to get them into the country, it could.

"We're looking at all our options at this point," he said. "We are examining all options to support the opposition."

Obama's speech Monday night has advanced a debate over what circumstances the president may take similar actions in other countries with repressive regimes.

But Obama said today that Libya was a "unique situation" and the world should not expect the United States to intervene in every humanitarian crisis.

"We'll examine how we can make a difference, not just through military tools, but also through diplomatic and political tools, understanding that there's significant costs and risks involved in that, and understanding that our military is already very overstretched," he told Sawyer.

Obama said his policy of intervening in Libya does not extend to Syria where protesters have been me with violence and that he tried to make their clear in his address to the nation Monday night.

"Part of the point that I tried to make last night is that we had a moment in time where we did have this international mandate, including from Arab countries," he said. "We had a brutal dictator who had shown himself willing to kill thousands of people in the past-- and to show no mercy."

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"We had the ability to intervene very rapidly with a strong international participation, and to make a difference," he said.

Obama said he was unsure if those circumstances could be duplicated in another nation.

"Those are the kinds of criteria that I examined, but I'm not going to start, right as we're in a very complex operation in Libya, start projecting out about all the other countries in which this would apply," he said.

Asked if he was okay with Gadhafi leaving Libya and moving into exile, Obama deferred, stressing that it is not up to him alone.

The president said that after the Libyan leader signals he will step down, the international community needs to determine the "most appropriate way of facilitating" that.

"I certainly will be supporting him being removed from power and we're going to have to examine what our options are after that," he said.

Obama said that getting Gadhafi to go away will take a "little bit of time."

"The process of actually getting Gadhafi to step down is not going to happen overnight," he said. "And keep in mind, we've only been operating here for nine days."

Obama strongly defended the U.S. military action in Libya in an address to the nation Monday night as a necessary humanitarian intervention, acknowledging that while America's security was not threatened, U.S. "interests and values" were at stake.

"Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different," he said in his speech at the National Defense University in Washington. "And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."

During his interview with Sawyer, Obama said his administration has been confronted with a series of crises. "We've had more than our share," he said.

"I'm assuming that in future years, things level out a little bit. But in the meantime, this is why I have to do something about the bags under my eyes."

He said that he does "a lot of praying, absolutely, every night, right before I go to bed."

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"I am praying that I'm making the best possible decisions, and that I've got the strength to serve the American people well," he said.

The president got in a subtle jab at his critics who took issue with him filling out an NCAA bracket with so much on his plate.

"You know a lot of folks focused on the fact that I filled out my bracket," he said. "Obviously I hadn't been spending that much time studying it since I don't have anybody in the Final Four."

With a nod to Sawyer's Bluegrass State roots, Obama offered congratulations to the Kentucky Wildcats on making it to the Final Four.

Read the full transcript from the Diane Sawyer's interview with President Obama