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U.S. considers action beyond no-fly zone

In this image taken during an organized trip, a soldier loyal to Gadhafi fires in the air on the road to Ajdabiya, Libya, on Wednesday. (Associated Press)
In this image taken during an organized trip, a soldier loyal to Gadhafi fires in the air on the road to Ajdabiya, Libya, on Wednesday. (Associated Press)

Ambassador to U.N. didn’t specify measures

WASHINGTON – In a marked shift of Obama administration emphasis, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Wednesday that American officials were prepared to support action going beyond a no-fly zone in an effort to protect civilians in Libya and halt the Gadhafi regime’s advances against rebel forces.

The U.N. Security Council is debating a resolution to take action and could vote as soon as today. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador, said discussions include a no-fly zone. She did not specify other actions being contemplated.

But her reference to other military measures reflected the harsh realities of the Libyan conflict: Gadhafi has made so many gains against the rebels that a no-fly zone may no longer be enough to stop his advance.

“The U.S. view is that we need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include, but perhaps go beyond, a no-fly zone at this point, as the situation on the ground has evolved, and as a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk,” Rice said.

Until this point, the Obama administration had seemed reluctant to support imposition of a no-fly zone. But with Gadhafi’s forces crushing the rebellion, the U.S. is facing mounting pressure to intervene.

Over the weekend, the Arab League voted in favor of a no-fly zone, giving the U.S. some political cover. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reflected the change in the administration’s thinking.

“So many different actions are being considered,” Clinton said Wednesday. “Yes, a no-fly zone, but others as well, to enable the protection of Libyan citizens against their own leader, who seems determined to turn the clock back and kill as many of them as possible.”

Some Middle East experts fear that time is running out. At a conference in Washington on Wednesday, some experts warned that Gadhafi might be within 48 hours of defeating the rebellion and recovering lost territory.

At the conference, sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative, experts were baffled by what they described as the Obama administration’s passivity in the face of Gadhafi’s march.

“President Obama needs to think very seriously about saying Gadhafi must go and not making that stick,” said Michele Dunne, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “There’s an impact on the United States and the president’s role in the world.”

Bloomberg News reported that Libya’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has sided with rebels, said Wednesday that rapid action was needed to stop the regime’s forces from launching two offensives. He said that Gadhafi forces are preparing offensives in eastern and western Libya.