WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton underscored on Thursday the need for international consensus on the next steps on Libya, saying any unilateral U.S. move could have unforeseeable consequences.
Clinton also expressed deep doubts about proposals to set up a “no-fly” zone over Libya, saying previous no-fly zones set up over Iraq and Serbia had had little effect.
Clinton told the House of Representatives appropriations committee that the Obama administration believed it was imperative that other countries agree on the way forward.
“We are working to create an international consensus because we think that is absolutely critical to anything that anybody, especially us, does,” Clinton said, saying there was considerable ambivalence over what should be done.
“Absent international authorization, the United States acting alone would be stepping into a situation whose consequences are unforeseeable,” Clinton said.
Clinton said the United States was focussing on humanitarian relief and building links to Libya’s opposition groups, adding that the State Department had stopped working with Libya’s embassy in Washington, whose ambassador was among the senior diplomats who renounced leader Muammar Gaddafi.
“We are suspending our relationships with the existing Libyan Embassy, so we expect them to end operations as the embassy of Libya,” she said.
Clinton said U.S. planners remained concerned that Gaddafi, who under U.S. pressure agreed in 2003 to abandon his weapons of mass destruction, still had some capacity.
“He still does, as you probably know, have some remaining chemical weapons and some other nasty stuff that we’re concerned about,” Clinton said.
Clinton stressed that the United States was looking at “every option imaginable” for the next steps on Libya, but said a proposed a no-fly zone over the country may not be the best one.
“I want to remind people that we had a no-fly zone over Iraq. It did not prevent Saddam Hussein from slaughtering people on the ground and it did not get him out of office,” Clinton said.
“We had a no-fly zone and then we had 78 days of bombing in Serbia. It did not get Milosevic out of office. It did not get him out of Kosovo until we put troops on the ground with our allies,” she added. “I really want people to understand what we are looking at.”
“I can assure you that the president is not going to make any decision without a great deal of careful thought and deliberation.”