President Obama says he is “absolutely” concerned about Libyan Leader Muammar Qaddafi prevailing against opposition rebels but said the U.S. and its allies are “slowly tightening the noose” around him in an effort to push the dictator from power.
“I’ve not taken any options off the table at this point,” Obama said in Friday press conference. “…We’ve moved as swiftly as any international coalition has ever moved to take sanctions…I have not foreclosed any options.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be meeting with opposition group leaders in the coming days on her trip to the Middle East, Obama noted, and NATO plans to meet Tuesday to consider imposing a no-fly zone. Such a move would doubtless involve U.S. military strikes against any ground installations in Libya, and Obama said he would weigh any use of U.S. military power in the region very seriously.
“Anytime I send U.S. forces into hostile situations there are risks involved and consequences,” Obama said.
Obama noting that he’s “absolutely concerned” about Qaddafi’s ability to outlast the opposition rebels appeared aimed at softening the criticism of remarks by his Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, who Thursday predicted that Qaddafi would prevail if left unchecked.
“He was making a hard-headed assessment about military capability,” he said. “I don’t think anyone disputes that Qadaffi has more fire power than the opposition.”
Obama then pivoted to talk about the larger political ramifications of Qaddafi’s brutal attacks against his own people.
“I believe that Qaddafi is on the wrong side of history,” Obama said. “I think the Libyan people are anxious for freedom—and we are going ot be in contact with the opposition…and the international community with the goal of removing Qaddafi from power.”
Speaking to the press just hours after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, the President pledged “whatever assistance is needed.” He advised people in the United States and its territories to continue to monitor the potential for tsunamis and follow warnings and directions from emergency-relief agencies.
Obama said the U.S. embassy in Japan had moved its operations to another site and that the U.S. military was trying to account for all of its personnel in Japan. Obama also noted the he had dispatched a second U.S. aircraft carrier to Japan to join the one already stationed there.
In response to reports that the U.S. had rushed coolant to the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan, the President said he had talked to Japan’s Prime Minister and there has been no evidence of radiation leaks but that the situation was being closely monitored.
The devastation in Japan comes at a tumultuous time for the President who is also being forced to respond to the spiraling unrest in the Middle East — particularly in Libya — and political clashes at home where Republicans are impugning his spending priorities as a government shutdown looms.
Amid the turmoil, gas prices are still on the rise. Obama said his administration was taking a number of steps in the short run, including preparations to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve “should the situation demand it.”
“We have it teed up,” he said. “It’s not a situation where it would take several weeks to implement. It would take several days.”
Even so, Obama said, the U.S. economy is taking steps to wean itself off foreign oil dependence including increasing domestic drilling, as well as investing in alternative energy solutions.
“Today, we use seven percent less oil since we did in 2005. We’re efficient. We’re adapting. We’re producing more oil and we’re consuming less,” he said.
Obama then called on Congress to pass comprehensive energy reform, saying Americans are fed up with Congress acting only during a spike in prices.
“When prices go back down, we slip back into a trance. When prices go up, we’re shocked,” he said.