GENEVA: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was reaching out to Libyan opposition groups seeking to oust longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Clinton spoke shortly before leaving for Geneva, where she will meet with European allies and envoys from Arab and African countries in hopes of agreeing on a common response to the rebellion that threatens to end Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.
The trip comes a day after the U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed a travel ban and froze the assets of Gaddafi and his family.
“We are reaching out to many different Libyans in the east as the revolution moves westward there as well,” Clinton said, referring to opposition groups. “… It is too soon to see how this is going to play out.”
A spokesman for the new National Libyan Council, which formed in the eastern city of Benghazi after it was taken by anti-Gaddafi forces, said his group did not want foreign intervention.
As Gaddafi opponents made gains near the capital city Tripoli, Clinton said the U.N. resolution was a message to Gaddafi and those around him that they “will be held accountable for the actions that are being taken and have been taken against Libyan people.”
Clinton said the United States was not negotiating with Gaddafi.
“We want him to leave and we want him to end his regime and call off the mercenaries and troops who remain loyal to him,” she said. “How he manages that is up to him.”
U.S. officials say Clinton’s trip to Geneva is aimed at coordinating the international response to Libya’s crisis, with Washington insisting that the world “speak with one voice” on stemming the violence and bringing Gaddafi to justice.
The resolution adopted by the 15-nation U.N. council also called for the immediate referral of the deadly crackdown to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for investigation and possible prosecution of anyone responsible for killing civilians.
The Obama administration has been criticized by rights groups and others for moving too slowly on Libya, the latest country hit by spreading turmoil and anti-government protests across the Middle East and North Africa. But White House officials said fears for the safety of Americans in the country had tempered Washington’s response to the turmoil.
Washington announced a series of sanctions against Libya on Friday after a chartered ferry and a plane carrying Americans and other evacuees left Libya.
Senior U.S. officials, speaking to reporters aboard Clinton’s plane, said she would seek to win international approval for “lockstep” enforcement of economic and diplomatic sanctions targeting Gaddafi and his inner circle.
“Nobody overestimates Gaddafi’s rationality in our government,” an official said, adding that others around Gaddafi might start to reconsider their options.
“We are seeking the levers at our disposal to influence those individuals and not just somebody of questionable rationality.”
Washington is considering steps including sanctions and a “no-fly” zone to try to stop Gaddafi’s suppression of anti-government protests, which diplomats estimate has killed about 2,000 people in two weeks of violence.
While Western governments are trying to ratchet up pressure, it remains unclear how long Gaddafi, with some thousands of loyalists, might hold out against rebel forces comprised of youthful gunmen and mutinous soldiers. AGENCIES
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