Obama orders Gadhafi assets frozen; U.S. shutters embassy

By Nicholas Johnston

Bloomberg News

Published: Saturday, Feb. 26 2011 10:00 p.m. MST

President Barack Obama took the first step in what his administration said will be a series of sanctions against the Libyan government, signing an order freezing any U.S. assets of Moammar Gadhafi, his family and members of his regime.

Following the departure of diplomatic personnel and other Americans from Libya yesterday, the Obama administration also temporarily shuttered the U.S. embassy in Tripoli and said no options, including military action, have been ruled out.

Gadhafi and his associates "have taken extreme measures against the people of Libya, including by using weapons of war, mercenaries, and wanton violence against unarmed civilians," reads the order, signed by Obama last night.

In a separate statement, Obama criticized the Libyan government for its "continued violation of human rights, brutalization of its people, and outrageous threats" and said the regime must be held accountable.

"We will stand steadfastly with the Libyan people in their demand for universal rights, and a government that is responsive to their aspirations," he said.

Violence between supporters of Gadhafi and opposition groups has raged for more than 10 days, and there were reports from Libya that worshipers were being shot as they left mosques after Friday prayers. Gadhafi continued to cling to power as his opponents consolidated control of the eastern part of the country and violence worsened in the capital.

United Nations

The U.S. will work with the United Nations on additional sanctions against Gadhafi, White House press secretary Jay Carney said. The asset freeze is "a first step," he said. "We continue to review our options going forward."

Gadhafi and four of his children are named in the executive order and the U.S. departments of Treasury and State will identify other officials and family members who may be subject to the order, Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department's under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told reporters last night.

"We do have reason to believe that there are substantial funds of money that will be blocked by this action and therefore preserved for the Libyan people and protected from being looted by the regime," he said. "Those assets will stay in place until we release them."

Monitoring Libya

Carney said the U.S. will use the "full extent" of its intelligence capabilities to monitor the regime's actions. Asked whether the U.S. military may get involved, Carney said that no options have been taken "off the table."

Pressure was building for firmer action against Libyan authorities. A group of 41 former U.S. administration officials and human-rights activists urged Obama and NATO to deploy military forces to create a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Gadhafi from using aircraft to attack civilians, as did Senators John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent.

Analysts said the chaos in Libya limits the steps the U.S. can take now.

"The only thing that can have immediate impact are statements which can give people a sense of their options going forward," said Jon Alterman, Middle East analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "The information picture is so cloudy that it's hard to do a lot of effective things through diplomatic channels."

'A Certain Caution'

Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said the administration was initially hamstrung by Americans trapped in the country, most of whom were evacuated yesterday by ferry to Malta and by chartered aircraft to Turkey.

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