President Obama announced Friday that he has “determined that it's appropriate for us to assign a representative whose specific job is to interact with the opposition” in Libya to “determine ways that we can further help them.”
The move, in light of the U.S. rejection of Moammar Gadhafi’s representatives as legitimate, can be interpreted as a de facto recognition of the Libyan opposition as the legitimate representatives of that country. Earlier this week, France announced it was formally making such a move.
The president noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would soon be meeting with representatives of the opposition “and so we're going to be in close consultation with them.”
The president said the moves the international community has taken means “we are slowly tightening the noose on Gadhafi. He is more and more isolated internationally, both through sanctions as well as an arms embargo.”
Speaking at a Friday afternoon press conference, the president noted that NATO will meet on Tuesday in Brussels to consider imposing a no-fly zone over the country. “We've been in discussions both Arab countries as well as African countries to gauge their support for such an action,” he said. A senior administration official tells ABC News there is increasing support for such a move among Arab and Gulf states.
The president said he was not rushing to military action in the region because of the risks both to U.S. military personnel, possible consequences, and politically the need to “maintain the strong international coalition that we have right now.”
The president again underscored that part of the U.S. approach is to make sure “those who are around Gadhafi…are thinking about what their future prospects are if they continue down the course that they're on.”
Responding to an assessment made by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that based on the military situation on the ground, Gadhafi will “prevail,” the president said Clapper “was making a hardheaded assessment about military capability. And I don't think anybody disputes that Gadhafi has more firepower than the opposition.”
That said, the president underlined that Clapper “wasn't stating policy. So let me be clear again about what our policy as determined by me, the president of the United States, is towards the situation there: I believe that Gadhafi's on the wrong side of history. I believe that the Libyan people are anxious for freedom and the removal of somebody who has suppressed them for decades now. And we are going to be in contact with the opposition as well as in consultation with the international community to try to achieve the goal of Mr. Gadhafi being removed from power.”
Asked about his larger vision about the democratic movements spreading throughout the region, the president underlined his principles of non violence and universal rights, but said “each country is different. And so the evolution, the process towards that vision, is going to differ in each country…But we should be on the side of those who want to seize this opportunity.”
The historic repression in the region has meant “for many decades you've seen a lack of opening up that allows you take advantage of the global economy,” he said. But the process of change “can be a great opportunity for the Middle East, because if you can tap into the talents of those young people, then you can start seeing the kind of economic growth in that region that you started to see in other places in the world.”