ABC News' Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report: President Obama delivered his first public condemnation of the blood spilling in the streets of Libya. Notably, with hundreds of Americans still trying to flee the North African country, the president did not blame any individual or organization for the violence.
The president hinted as to why he was so circumspect when he began his remarks by saying “first, we are doing everything we can to protect America citizens, that is my highest priority. In Libya we urged our people to leave the country and the State Department is assisting those in need of support.”
In the remainder of the carefully-worded statement, the president said “we strongly condemn the use of violence in Libya, the American people extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of all that have been killed and injured. The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable. So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protestors and further punish the people of Libya. These actions violate international norms and every standard of common decency. This violence must stop.”
The president did not say that it was the Libyan government, or its leader Col. Moammar Gadhaffi, responsible for the atrocities.
The president said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will head to Geneva on Monday, where she will discuss with other foreign ministers the push to rescind the membership of Libya on the United Nations Human Rights Council. He said both he and Secretary Clinton are sending Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns to travel the world consulting with allies on what to do next.
The president said he had asked administration officials “to prepare the full range of options that we have to respond to this crisis. This includes those actions we may take and those we will coordinate with our allies and partners, or those that we’ll carry out through multilateral institutions.” A White House source official said the Obama administration will pursue multilateral sanctions against the regime.
Underlining his belief in international organizations, the president said “in a volatile situation like this one, it is imperative that the nations and peoples of the world speak with one voice.” He pointed out that the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted to support a resolution stating “that it condemns the violence in Libya, supports accountability for the perpetrators, and stands with the Libyan people.”
Instead of a resolution, or even a second-tier “presidential statement,” the UN Security Council yesterday was only able to pass a “press statement,” which like President Obama’s comments today was kept free of blame.
The UN statement expressed “grave concern at the situation in Libya” and “condemned the violence and use of force against civilians, deplored the repression against peaceful demonstrators, and expressed deep regret at the deaths of hundreds of civilians.” The UN Security Council called upon the Government of Libya “to meet its responsibility to protect its population…to act with restraint, to respect human rights and international humanitarian law, and to allow immediate access for international human rights monitors and humanitarian agencies…to ensure the safe passage of humanitarian and medical supplies and humanitarian workers into the country….and to respect the freedom of peaceful assembly and of expression, including freedom of the press.”
President Obama today said the same message “has been delivered by the European Union, the Arab League, the African Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and many individual nations. North and south, east and west, voices are being raised together to oppose suppression and support the rights of the Libyan people.”
As he has with Yemenis, Bahrainis, and Egyptians in recent weeks, the president asserted the “universal rights of the Libyan people. That includes the rights of peaceful assembly, free speech, and the ability of the Libyan people to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. They are not negotiable. They must be respected in every country. And they cannot be denied through violence or suppression.”
The president said that the “change that is taking place across the region is being driven by the people of the region. This change doesn’t represent the work of the United States or any foreign power. It represents the aspirations of people who are seeking a better life. As one Libyan said, ‘We just want to be able to live like human beings.’
"'We just want to be able to live like human beings,'" the president repeated. “It is the most basic of aspirations that is driving this change.”
-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller