Obama Administration Steps Up Outreach to Libyan Opposition, Ambassador Says Meeting with Clinton Was “Very Positive”

Mar 10, 2011 3:42pm

ABC News' Kirit Radia reports: The United States stepped up its outreach to the Libyan opposition on Thursday, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meeting with Libya’s Ambassador to Washington Ali Aujali, who has pledged his support for the opposition. Earlier in the day Clinton told a congressional panel she also planned to meet with representatives from the opposition when she travels to North Africa next week. Reached by phone after the meeting, Ambassador Aujali told ABC News the encounter was “very positive.” “They are taking the issue very serious (sic),” he said of the Obama administration. “I hope that there will be action to stop this Gadhafi family killing.” He declined to say if Clinton told him the United States was prepared to do anything specific, but said the US is studying its options and consulting with its alliances and the United Nations. This morning Secretary Clinton announced the United States was suspending ties with Libya’s embassy in Washington. The move does not mean, however, that the United States is cutting diplomatic relations with Libya. “We expect them to end operating as the embassy of Libya,” she said. Aujali said he was still the ambassador and now represents the people of “free Libya.” A State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the department, said embassy employees who have maintained support for the Gadhafi regime since the uprising began will be asked to leave the country by Friday. As for Ambassador Aujali’s status, the official said that is still being determined. The United States would like to keep in touch with him as a liaison with the opposition and he would be unable to return to Libya since he has spoken out against the government. The White House also announced today that it would be sending humanitarian assistance teams into Libyan territory for the first time, entering into space controlled by the opposition. Previously aid was delivered to the borders with Tunisia and Egypt where many who were displaced by the fighting fled to. The diplomatic screws were also tightening on Col. Gadhafi’s regime elsewhere around the world. France became the first country to officially recognize the opposition today and agreed to swap ambassadors. A U.S. official said that the Obama administration has no plans to do the same. In Brussels today, NATO ministers agreed to present the alliance with a proposal next week to increase naval assets for added surveillance capability and enforcement of the United Nations-imposed arms embargo, as well as initiate planning for additional humanitarian relief. While the body did not decide to impose a no-fly zone on Libya, it agreed to continue planning in case one is eventually needed. In her testimony today, Secretary Clinton warned about the consequences of unilateral American action inside Libya. “I'm one of those who believes that absent international authorization, the United States acting alone would be stepping into a situation whose consequences are unforeseeable.  And I know that's the way our military feels,” she said. “I want to remind people that, you know, we had a no-fly zone over Iraq.  It did not prevent Saddam Hussein from slaughtering people on the ground, and it did not get him out of office.  We had a no-fly zone, and then we had 78 days of bombing in Serbia.  It did not get Milosevic out of office.  It did not get him out of Kosovo until we put troops on the ground with our allies,” she reminded lawmakers. “So I really want people to understand what we are looking at. And I will reiterate what the president has said and what our administration has consistently said.  We are considering everything, but we think it's important that the Congress and the public understand as much as possible about what that actually means.  And I can assure you that the president is not going to make any decision without a great deal of careful thought and deliberation,” she said in defense of the administration’s decision not to take some of the steps many on Capitol Hill have called for. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has cautioned against the imposition of a no-fly zone and earlier this week the US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder told reporters it would not be effective in preventing the helicopter and ground attacks that Gadhafi’s forces have been employing against the rebels. Illustrating another element of complication, a new study today by analysts at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments determined that a full no-fly zone over Libya would cost between $100 million to $300 million per week, and that depending on the number of ground targets, a one-time strike operation to take out air defense systems might cost between $500 million and $1 billion. Even a partial no-fly zone using a combination of naval and sea assets would cost $15 million to $25 million per week, the study found.

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