Clinton Denies Obama Administration Is Dragging Its Feet While Gaddafi Crushes Rebels

March 17, 2011 - 3:51 AM

libya gaddafi forces

Libyan government forces celebrate at the entrance of Ajdabiya, the last significant town before Benghazi, the de facto capital of the opposition, on Wednesday, March 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

(CNSNews.com) – As the son of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi crowed Wednesday that government forces would defeat rebels in their Benghazi base “within 48 hours,” the head of a U.S.-based group promoting democracy in Libya voiced frustration and regret at the international response to the crisis.

He singled out for criticism the Obama administration, which he said had given “not a whimper of support” to the provisional council representing the anti-Gaddafi rebellion.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a series of interviews in Cairo Wednesday spoke of a new “urgency” and expressed the hope that the U.N. Security Council could vote as early as Thursday on a draft resolution authorizing actions including a “no-fly zone.”

“There is a sense of urgency because Colonel Gaddafi and his forces are moving east, and so we want to see the Security Council act as soon as possible,” she told Egypt’s Nile TV.

Clinton, who met with a Libyan National Council rebel leader in Paris on Monday, characterized last weekend’s call by the Arab League for the Security Council to act as a game-changer.

“As we consult in New York on a U.N. resolution, there’s a much greater openness than there was a week ago,” she told CBS television.

Although she alluded to the possibility of a veto by China and Russia, the U.S. itself did not immediately come out in support of the draft resolution introduced by France, Britain and non-permanent member Lebanon.

Pressed by the BBC about the view in Britain and France that the U.S. had been “dragging [its] feet,” Clinton she did not think that was fair.

“I know how anxious the British and the French and the Lebanese are, and they have taken a big step in presenting something. But we want to get something that will do what needs to be done, and can be passed. It won’t do us any good to consult, negotiate, and then have something vetoed or not have enough votes to pass it. So I think that we are where we need to be right now.”

Three things Clinton referred to repeatedly in the interviews were that a no-fly zone was only one of the potential actions that could be taken; that “Arab participation” would be needed; and that “unilateral” action by the U.S. or any other country would have been wrong.

‘We are at the gates of Benghazi’

libya gaddafi son

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Muammar Gaddafi’s son, speaks to supporters in Tripoli on Thursday, March 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Asked in an interview with the Euronews television channel Wednesday how the regime led by his father would react to a resolution authorizing a no-fly zone, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi responded scornfully.

“A resolution of what, against who?” he said. “It’s too late. In 48 hours we will have finished our military operation. We are at the gates of Benghazi.”

Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city with a population approaching one million, has been the de-facto capital of the month-long rebellion about Gaddafi’s four decade-long rule.

It lies 100 miles from Ajdabiya, which government forces recaptured from rebels on Tuesday as they squeeze the rebellion into the north-eastern corner of the country, towards Tobruk and the Egyptian border.

It’s unclear what type of fight, if any, the outgunned rebels will put up. Libyan state television Wednesday reported an army ultimatum for Benghazi residents to leave areas held by the “armed gangs” by midnight (6 PM eastern U.S. time).

The change in the rebellion’s fortunes has been dramatic. Just eight days ago it was the rebels giving Gaddafi an ultimatum – to call off his forces and leave Libya within 72 hours in return for not facing criminal prosecution at home.

Adding its voice Wednesday to concerns about the prospect of a Gaddafi victory was the American Libyan Freedom Alliance (ALFA), an organization founded in 2003 to advocate for human rights and democracy in Libya.

“Should Gaddafi prevail over the uprising, I foresee massacres on a large scale, of those who opposed him and the civilian population in general for not rising against the rebels,” ALFA chairman Mohamed Bugaighis told CNSNews.com.

Libyans flee

As Muammar Gaddafi’s forces advance on the remaining rebel-held territory in the east of the country, Libyans head for the border with Egypt. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

“I tend to agree with the statements that Gaddafi will seek vengeance on all, by returning to his terrorism inside Libya and outside it,” he said. “He will continue to rebuild his stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons.”

Bugaighis, a retired statistics and mathematics professor at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., said he was “very disappointed” about the response of the international community to calls for a no-fly zone and protection for Libyan civilians.

“While the U.S. and others are describing the Gaddafi regime as having lost its legitimacy – a legitimacy that he never acquired since his military coup, and ruled through fear and terror – they are reluctant to extend recognition to the [provisional opposition body] Libyan National Council, as France has done,” he said.

“I find that France has been most helpful in this regard, followed by the U.K., with not a whimper of support coming from the U.S.”

“I have been a critic of the U.S. administration in cozying up to dictators, under the false assumption that they serve U.S. security, when in fact such dictators threaten the security of all, particularly the people they rule, and tightly control,” Bugaighis said.

Chemical fears

Although Gaddafi destroyed or surrendered some non-conventional weapons and related technology in and after 2004, Bugaighis voiced concern that he use those still in his possession against rebels, in which case he “will feel the necessity to replenish those weapons.”

Gaddafi in a 2003 deal negotiated with the U.S. and Britain renounced his weapons of mass destruction programs and handed over nuclear bombmaking technology including thousands of centrifuges.

In early 2004 he also destroyed more than 3,300 aerial bombs designed to disperse chemical agents – specifically mustard gas – under the supervision of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

According to the OPCW, Libya last year had also destroyed just after half of its declared mustard gas stockpile of 23 metric tons. The remaining 9.5 metric tons was due to be destroyed by May 2011.

The Netherlands-based watchdog notes that Libya lacks the delivery systems needed to use the agent, having destroyed the bombs in 2004.

Nonetheless, the OPCW head, Turkish diplomat Ahmet Uzumcu, called in Libya’s representative, Ali Gebril Werfeli, last Friday to voice concern about the status of the remaining weapons and to urge “that every possible measure be taken to prevent their possible use.”

The OPCW says Werfeli assured Uzumcu that the situation was unchanged and under control.

Mustard gas was used during World War I and by Saddam Hussein’s forces during the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s. The OPCW describes it as a “blistering and tissue-injuring” agent. It causes blistering resembling burns and severe damage to the eyes, respiratory system and internal organs, with suffering still reported 30-40 years after exposure.