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Obama: A ‘Focused’ Mission in Libya

President Obama today demanded that Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi suspend attacks against rebels or face military repercussions. He issued a blunt ultimatum to Qaddafi to cease attacks against rebels opposing his regime or face enforcement of the U.N. Security Council resolution “through military action.” The terms of a cessation, Obama said, must include the halting of the advance on Benghazi, and the pulling back of forces from Ajdabiya, Misrata, and Zawiya.

Obama warned that failure to follow through on the resolution would mean “the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.” But he was clear to add that the “focused” international humanitarian mission would not include American ground troops. “And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal: specifically the protection of civilians in Libya,” Obama said. Indeed, senior administration officials are already leaking (anonymously) to the likes of CNN that the no-fly zone could be ‘canceled’ if Qaddafi pulls back — setting up a scenario where the West would allow Qaddafi to stay in power:

This official, who spoke on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, said that “right now, we’re focused on stopping the violence.”

Clinton said Friday, “The first and overwhelming urgent action is to end the violence. And we have to see a clear set of decisions that are operationalized on the ground by Gadhafi’s forces to move physically a significant distance away from the east, where they have been pursuing their campaign against the opposition.”

The purpose of the no-fly zone, the administration official said, is to prevent Gadhafi from attacking his own people.

“It’s not designed to have him go. That’s not the purpose,” the official said. “The purpose of the military action is to prevent massive humanitarian loss of life, to stop the violence. If the violence stops, then you shouldn’t leap to say then the military action will continue until he leaves.”

The ultimate aim of U.S. policy, the administration official said, remains to force Gadhafi step down. But to accomplish that, the administration’s strategy hinges on “sequencing.”

“There are a lot of different measures,” the official said. “If you have a cease-fire in place that is verifiable, then you can continue turning the noose without taking necessarily further action. What we’re trying to do is freeze his advance. And then work from there to what was the original call, which was that he has lost legitimacy and he needs to go. But you have to sequence it.”

More here on the latter. President Obama’s full statement here.

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