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Obama: US will turn over control of Libya effort

By Robert Burns

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 22 2011 4:00 p.m. MDT

President Barack Obama answers question on the ongoing situation in Libya during his joint news conference with President of El Salvador Mauricio Funes at the National Palace in San Salvador, El Salvador, Tuesday, March 22, 2011.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Despite squabbling among allies involved in the air assault in Libya, President Barack Obama said Tuesday he is confident the U.S. can hand over control of the operation to other nations in a matter of days.

The president, speaking in El Salvador, said the attack authorized by the United Nations late last week has already saved the lives of Libyans who would otherwise have been targeted by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

Responding to a question at a news conference on the final stop of a Latin American trip, the president also suggested the administration would not need to request funding from Congress for the air operations but would pay for them out of money already approved.

Obama spoke as administration officials briefed lawmakers in Washington about the military operation to date, and as the White House disclosed he would return home a few hours ahead of schedule on Wednesday.

Obama said he had spoken earlier with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in hopes of quickly resolving a dispute over the transition of the military mission designed to create a no-fly zone over Libya to shield the civilian population.

"When this transition takes place it is not going to be our planes that are maintaining the no-fly zone. It is not going to be our ships that are necessarily enforcing the arms embargo. That's precisely what the other nations are going to do," Obama said.

With congressional critics growing vocal about the deployment of American military forces, the president defended the wisdom of the operation.

"It is in America's national interests to participate ... because no one has a bigger stake in making sure that there are basic rules of the road that are observed, that there is some semblance of order and justice, particularly in a volatile region that's going through great changes," Obama said.

With longtime autocratic governments under pressure elsewhere in the Arab world, the president made clear his decision to dispatch U.S. planes and ships did not automatically signal he would do so everywhere.

"That doesn't mean we can solve every problem in the world," he said.

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