The Obama administration on Tuesday reiterated its condemnation of bloody clashes between protesters and those loyal to the Libyan leader, Col.Muammar el-Qaddafi, but it stopped short of threatening concrete measures, like sanctions or a no-flight zone above Tripoli.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Libyan government was responsible for the bloodshed, which she called “completely unacceptable.” But with the United States not yet able to get its diplomats out of the country, she said, “the safety and well being of Americans has to be our highest priority.”
“We are in touch with many Libyan officials, directly and indirectly, and with other governments in the region to try to influence what is going on inside Libya,” Mrs. Clinton said to reporters at the State Department.
On Monday, the State Department ordered 35 diplomats and their dependents to leave the country. On Tuesday, it was not able to move them because of a shortage of seats on commercial flights. It has asked commercial carriers to fly larger planes to Tripoli and has charter flights on standby, said the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley.
Even before the violence, the United States has worried about the safety of its diplomats in Tripoli. The State Department called home its ambassador, Gene A. Cretz, after his name appeared on cables made public by WikiLeaks, which disclosed embarrassing details about the personal habits of Colonel Qaddafi.
“It is a totally legitimate concern, given Qaddafi’s past behavior,” said Tom Malinowski, the head of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch. “But the more they signal that their chief concern is for the safety of their people, the more the incentive for the Qaddafi government to hold hostages.”
Mr. Crowley said the Libyan government had pledged to cooperate with the United States in evacuating Americans. A senior diplomat, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey D. Feltman, has spoken several times by telephone with Libya’s foreign minister, Moussa Koussa. The United States is exploring other options to move people, including by ferry. But for now, Mr. Crowley said, the focus was on using aircraft.
In addition to the embassy personnel, there are about 600 American citizens registered with the embassy in Tripoli, as well as several thousand people with dual American-Libyan citizenship. Many of those work for energy companies and were also trying to get out of the country, he said.