Obama briefed on latest developments in Libya
VINEYARD HAVEN, Massachusetts — U.S. leaders monitored the progress of Libyan rebel forces as they moved on Tripoli and pounded on the doorstep of leader Moammar Gadhafi’s home base Sunday.
“Gadhafi’s days are numbered,” a State Department spokeswoman said Sunday. “If Gadhafi cared about the welfare of the Libyan people, he would step down now.”
The White House said President Barack Obama was briefed Sunday morning on the latest developments by counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and heard reports from U.S. teams on the ground in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also received an update on the rapidly unfolding situation.
Rebel forces entered Tripoli, the capital, on Sunday night. Associated Press reporters with the rebels said they met little resistance as Gadhafi’s defenders appeared to melt away.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “Clearly the offensive for Tripoli is underway.” She said Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are being briefed regularly, and the U.S. is in close communication with the rebels’ Transitional National Council.
For the past two days, senior U.S. diplomats have had intensive discussions with the Libyan opposition, and with European and NATO allies, about the evolving situation. The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, and the top American diplomat for Europe, Philip Gordon, have been consulting with their counterparts.
Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, the top American diplomat for the Mideast, returned to Cairo on Sunday after two days in Benghazi, the de facto capital for the rebels. On Saturday, while in Benghazi, Feltman warned that “the best-case scenario is for Gadhafi to step down now … that’s the best protection for civilians.”
Nuland said Feltman’s trip underscores continuing U.S. efforts to encourage the rebels “to maintain broad outreach across all segments of Libyan society and to plan for post-Gadhafi Libya.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. will remain in close contact with its allies and Libyan rebel leaders. Brennan is with the president as he vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
U.S. officials are poised to assist the opposition as the country moves toward democracy. But it wasn’t clear Sunday how close such a transition might be, as Gadhafi and his supporters have vowed to continue the fight.
Looking ahead to a possible rebel victory in the 6-month-old civil war, U.S. Sen. John McCain said it will be very difficult to build a united democratic government there, due to the tribal rivalries.
“We’ve seen the difficulties with other countries who made this transition, but we will be rid of a guy who has the blood of Americans on his hands. We will be rid of a guy who has practiced the worst kind of brutalities. And now it’s going to be up to us and the Europeans,” the Arizona senator said, speaking on CBS television’s “Face the Nation.”
McCain said he thinks the opposition forces can ultimately succeed in setting up a new government, aided by revenues from oil. He said he believes it is a “matter of hours, if not days” before Gadhafi falls.