WASHINGTON — The White House urged governments in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain to cease attacks on protesters Friday, while saying fighting in those countries has not risen to the same level as in Libya, where U.S. forces are engaged in military action to stop violence perpetrated by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the decision to intervene in Libya was based not only on the violence that had already occurred there, "but also what was about to occur and the promises made by Gadhafi himself."
Carney said President Barack Obama would offer a clear explanation of how he reached the decision to take military action in Libya in the very near future, though he wouldn't say exactly when such remarks would occur.
The pro-democracy protests that started in Tunisia and Egypt in January have spread throughout the Middle East. The United States has taken a similar position in almost all of the uprisings, urging leaders to engage in political dialogue and calling for all sides to refrain from violence.
Carney made a similar appeal to Middle East leaders Friday.
"The stability and future of this region depends upon the decision by governments to listen to their people, to act on their legitimate aspirations and to open up their systems so that the people of these countries can have a greater stake in the future of their country and their own futures," he said.
The situation in Syria appeared particularly tenuous Friday, with troops opening fire on protesters in several cities and pro- and anti-government crowds clashing on the tense streets of the capital Damascus in the most widespread unrest in years, witnesses said.
Carney brushed aside questions about whether Syrian President Bashar Assad still has legitimacy, and wouldn't say whether U.S. officials had been speaking with Assad.
In Yemen, a key U.S. partner in the fight against terrorism, protesters converged on a square Friday chanting slogans calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, despite fears of more violence a week after government security forces shot dead more than 40 protesters. Saleh made a rare appearance Friday, saying he's ready to step down, but only if he can leave the country in "safe hands."
And in Bahrain, security forces fired tear gas at anti-government protesters Friday after a prominent Shiite cleric vowed that their demands for the Sunni monarchy to loosen its grip on power would not be silenced by "brutal force."
Carney said the White House is consulting with allies throughout the region as the situations develop.