Obama touting international success in Libya

September 20, 2011 - 3:15 AM
Obama

President Barack Obama reaches out to shake hands with a unidentified boy as he greet people on the tarmac during his arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Monday, Sept., 19, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

NEW YORK (AP) — President Barack Obama will seek to boost Libya's transitional leadership Tuesday and highlight the early success of the international community's efforts to end Moammar Gadhafi's rule as he opens two days of meetings at the United Nations.

However, Obama's attempts to point out progress in Libya threaten to be overshadowed by a showdown over Palestinian statehood.

With that diplomatic clash looming, the White House is eager to instead focus attention on the next phase of the international mission in Libya.

The president will meet one-on-one Tuesday morning with Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council. He'll then join other heads of state at a larger meeting on Libya, where the NTC is expected to outline its plans for setting up a new government after four decades of Gadhafi rule.

"We think it's most important to get it right rather than to get it done fast," White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said. "The TNC has made very positive statements about wanting to pursue an inclusive transition, about wanting to broaden the nature of the government to include some additional elements of the opposition that were based in different parts of the country."

Rhodes said the U.S. is close to re-establishing a full diplomatic presence in Tripoli and is working on freeing frozen Gadhafi assets. Obama is expected to outline other details of the U.S. involvement in Libya Tuesday.

The Libya meetings also give Obama an opportunity to tout the approach to Libya that he championed, one in which the U.S. played a secondary role to other NATO powers.

"The international community is acting precisely the way the United States would like the international community to act," said Jon Alterman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "And events on the ground are unfolding very much the way the United States would like them to unfold."

The U.N. played a central role in the early stages of the efforts to protect civilians from attacks by Gadhafi forces. The Security Council swiftly passed a resolution in March authorizing a no-fly zone and approving all necessary steps needed to protect civilians.

Following his meetings on Libya, Obama will shift his attention to Afghanistan when he meets with that country's leader, Hamid Karzai. It's the first time the two leaders have met in person since Obama announced plans to withdraw more than 30,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer.

Obama's withdrawal plan aims to put the Afghans on a path toward taking full control of their own security by the end of 2014.

With U.S. troops expected to stay in Afghanistan well beyond 2014, Obama and Karzai's discussion will focus in part on negotiations over a broad security deal to provide a framework for long-term U.S. military and economic support for Afghanistan. The agreement, now in draft form, would give the U.S. use of Afghan-run or jointly run bases after 2014. U.S. officials stress that U.S. military presence will be at Afghanistan's invitation.

The two countries appear close to an agreement, but sticking points remain, such as who will control detention of suspected militants and leadership of counterterrorism raids that are unpopular with the Afghans.

The U.S. has said any security agreement would not hold the legally binding force of a treaty, raising some questions over the enforceability of any pact.

Looming over Obama's meetings Tuesday is an approaching clash over Palestinian statehood.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said despite being under "tremendous pressure" to drop the effort, he plans to ask the U.N. Security Council to grant Palestinians full membership, a bid certain to be vetoed by the U.S.

U.S. officials are insisting there is still time to avoid a divisive showdown, and have been reaching out to Western allies in hopes of a last-minute compromise.

The Palestinian statehood bid is also a domestic concern for Obama, who faces skepticism from some Jewish voters who believe he's anti-Israel. Congressional lawmakers from both parties are also threatening to cut off $500 million in economic and security assistance to the Palestinians if they move forward with the U.N. bid.

Obama is also using his time in New York to raise money for his re-election bid. The president spoke at one fundraiser Monday night and was to speak at another Tuesday night, both to raise money for his campaign and for the Democratic National Committee.

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Julie Pace can be reached at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC