US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has suggested that military action could end in Libya before Colonel Gaddafi leaves power, amid open acknowledgements of “tactical differences” over the conflict.
Standing with the Prime Minister, Mr Obama urged allies “to be more patient” and signalled that the US was all but certain to refuse further requests for additional military hardware.
He suggested that while the departure of Colonel Gaddafi was desirable and ultimately inevitable, new “minimum” criteria could be used to decide the end-point of military action.
“I do think that is it going to be difficult to meet the UN mandate of security for the Libyan people as long as Gaddafi and his regime are still attacking them,” he said. “And so we are strongly committed to seeing the job through, making sure that, at minimum, Gaddafi doesn’t have the capacity to send in a bunch of thugs to murder innocent civilians.”
He also told the press conference: “We will continue those operations until Gaddafi’s attacks on civilians cease.
Time is working against Gaddafi and he must step down from power and leave Libya to the Libyan people.” Downing Street said that Mr Obama was clear in private meetings that he wanted the Libyan dictator to go, but it could not comment on why the President appeared to suggest military action could stop before he does.
Mr Obama’s remarks come the day after Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, told reporters that the mission in Libya would “not last longer than a few months”.
NATO has increased its campaign to drive Colonel Gaddafi out of his bunker with two nights of massive airstrikes on the Libyan capital. Warplanes pounded Tripoli on Tuesday evening, with six strikes in ten minutes, one of which hit the Libyan leader’s compound. Government targets around the western rebel outpost of Misrata were also hit.
President Jacob Zuma of South Africa has said that he will visit Colonel Gaddafi next week to try to find a way out of the stalemate, amid rumours in the French newspapers that the dictator is “tired of fighting”.
The G8 gathering in France tomorrow will discuss economic and practical help for Libya and other countries involved in the Arab Spring.
However, President Obama struck a notably more distant tone from Mr Cameron. The Prime Minister said: “The President and I agree that we should be turning up the heat in Libya” – an apparent reference to an imminent announcement about British ground attack helicopters being sent to the battlefield.
But the President said that there were “inherent limitations” to the strikes currently being carried out and a “false perception” that bringing new equipment into the conflict would “solve the situation in Libya”.
Signalling the priority that he gives to repairing US relations with the Arab world, he added: “We may have sometimes to be more patient than people would like. But ultimately I think it promises greater success, and it sustains our coalition and support for it, not just here but in the Arab world as well.”
Mr Cameron also failed to secure an explicit endorsement from the US President for the British Government’s deficit reduction strategy, despite suggestions from some government figures that they expected Mr Obama to praise Mr Cameron on the issue.
The US announced plans to reduce its deficit in April, delighting George Osborne who believed that it neutered a key Labour attack line that Britain’s deficit reduction plan was out of step with the rest of the world.
The US Government will cut its deficit from 2 per cent next year, compared with a British reduction of 1.6 per cent this year. But Mr Obama failed to give Britain any credit.
Asked whether Mr Cameron had “led the way”, Mr Obama replied: “Each country is going to have to make a range of decisions.” He even appeared to endorse Gordon Brown’s strategy by praising the action taken at the London summit in April 2009 hosted by the former Prime Minister.
“We’ve succeeded in the first part, which is to yank the world economy out of recession, and that was in large part due to concerted action between the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries.”