- President Obama cites Libyan leader by name for the first time
- U.S. steps so far are humanitarian
- Obama says all options, including a no-fly zone, are on the table
Washington (CNN) — President Barack Obama said Thursday he authorized the use of U.S. military and civilian aircraft to help return to Egypt those Egyptian citizens who have fled to Tunisia to escape unrest in neighboring Libya.
At a joint news conference with visiting Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Obama said the United States is examining a “full range of options” in the Libyan crisis.
For the first time since the Libyan crisis began, Obama cited Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi by name in a public statement, saying, “The violence must stop. Moammar Gadhafi has lost legitimacy to lead and he must leave. Those who perpetrate violence against the Libyan people will be held accountable, and the aspirations of the Libyan people for freedom, democracy and dignity must be met.”
However, Obama stopped short of committing U.S. help for creating a no-fly zone over Libya, as called for by anti-Gadhafi figures and some U.S. Congress members. Instead, he announced steps to deal with the growing humanitarian crisis involving refugees from Libya who have crossed the border into Tunisia and Egypt.
In addition to military aircract Obama said he authorized U.S. Agency for International Development to charter civilian aircraft to help in the refugee effort. “And we’re supporting the efforts of international organizations to evacuate people as well. I’ve also directed USAID to send humanitarian assistance teams to the Libyan border so that they can work with the United Nations, NGOs and other international partners inside Libya to address the urgent needs of the Libyan people,” he said.
Asked about a no-fly zone, Obama said it remained among the options available in case the situation in Libya deteriorates.
“What I’ve instructed the Department of Defense as well as our State Department and all those involved in international affairs to examine is a full range of options,” Obama said. “I don’t want us hamstrung. I want us to be making our decisions based on what’s going to be best for the Libyan people in consultation with the international community.”
The conflict in Libya could become a bloody stalemate, Obama said, adding he wanted to ensure that “the United States has full capacity to act, potentially rapidly, if the situation deteriorated in a such a way that you had a humanitarian crisis on our hands or a situation in which civilians were — defenseless civilians — were finding themselves trapped and in grave danger.”
In apparent response to criticism that the United States should be more involved in toppling Gadhafi, through a no-fly zone or arming anti-government forces in Libya, Obama said it was important to ensure that the Libyan people feel “full ownership” for any transformation and cited Egypt’s recent revolution as an example.
“We did not see anti-American sentiment arising out of that movement in Egypt precisely because they felt that we hadn’t tried to engineer or impose a particular outcome, but rather they owned it,” Obama said.
In Libya on Thursday, the Libyan military bombed two key towns in the east in stepping up efforts to reclaim a region lost to rebels. The aircraft targeted al-Brega and Ajdabiya, both of which also were hit with bombs Wednesday. Opposition forces told CNN they were forging ahead, working to maintain their positions and fend off attacks by pro-Gadhafi forces.
CNN’s Alan Silverleib contributed to this story.
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Obama sends U.S. military planes to move refugees who left Libya