US president Barack Obama said yesterday that the United States and its Nato allies are considering military intervention in Libya in the strongest warning yet to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi that the world will not stand by as the embattled Libyan leader attacks his own people.
Mr Obama said the US would support the Libyan people against "unacceptable" violence after pro-regime forces deployed jets, helicopters and artillery against civilians in an effort to retake western cities near Tripoli that had fallen to the opposition.
"I want to send a very clear message to those who are around Colonel Gaddafi. It is their choice to make how they operate moving forward. And they will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place," Mr Obama said.
His remarks will probably be met with mixed reactions from the Libyan opposition, which has back-pedalled on its appeals for Western intervention.
Yesterday evening the foreign ministers of Gulf states called on the UN to impose a no-fly zone. But earlier in the day, Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen downplayed the prospect of military intervention in the oil-rich nation, saying the alliance had "no intention to intervene" without a UN mandate, but added that he could not imagine the world would "stand idly by" if Colonel Gaddafi continued to attack civilians.
Al Jazeera TV reported that Colonel Gaddafi had offered negotiations that could lead to him stepping down, a move that was apparently rejected by the opposition. He was said to have asked for guarantees of safety for him and his family and a pledge that he would not face trial, but the opposition rejected as it would represent an honourable exit for the dictator.
The West has watched as Colonel Gaddafi unleashed lethal force against his people, and in recent days, his forces have mounted ruthless counter-offensives to claim Az Zawiya and Misurata, rebel-held cities close to Tripoli, while Libyan jets have launched air strikes on rebels on the eastern front.
Should Washington seek to intervene militarily, it will have to overcome Russian and Chinese opposition to secure a mandate from the UN Security Council. Moscow yesterday said the Libyans "have to solve their problems by themselves". Britain and France are said to be drafting a resolution on a no-fly zone, which could be put to the UN Security Council later this week, an unnamed UN envoy said.
It is not clear if even a limited foreign involvement is desired by the Libyan opposition National Council (NC), formed two days ago, despite earlier appeals for air strikes on regime strongholds. Opposition officials suggested that rebel fighters could view foreign intervention in a negative light. "There was a clear call but our perception is that the West is not ready for it," said Iman Bugaighis, NC spokeswoman.