Tuesday, March 1, 2011

U.S. ships move toward Libya amid fears of chaos

(Reuters) - U.S. warships sailed toward Libya on Tuesday as Washington warned that the oil-producing North African country could descend into chaos unless embattled leader Muammar Gaddafi relinquished power.

The repositioning of U.S. ships and aircraft closer to Libya is widely seen as a symbolic show of force since neither the United States nor its NATO allies have shown any appetite for direct military intervention in the turmoil that has seen Gaddafi lose control of large swaths of his country.

The White House said the ships were being redeployed in preparation for possible humanitarian efforts. But it stressed it "was not taking any options off the table," diplomatic language that signals military action is still a possibility.

But beyond flexing military muscle and freezing a record $30 billion in Libyan assets, Washington has limited influence on events inside Libya. Republican lawmakers and others have pressed President Barack Obama to do more militarily, but they have focused mainly on imposing a "no-fly" zone.

The USS Barry, a destroyer, moved through the Suez Canal on Monday and is now in the southwestern Mediterranean. Two amphibious assault ships, the USS Kearsarge, which can carry 2,000 Marines, and the USS Ponce, are in the Red Sea and now heading to the canal.

"We are going to keep the pressure on Gaddafi until he steps down and allows the people of Libya to express themselves freely and determine their own future," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told ABC's "Good Morning America."

FEARS OVER OIL PRICES

At the same time, the United States would work to stabilize oil prices, which soared to a 2 1/2-year high last week over unrest in the oil-producing North African country and elsewhere in the region, she said.

"This is a situation that does have potential implications for oil supply, oil prices," she said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned of civil strife if Gaddafi, whose forces are trying to regain control of areas now in rebel hands, refused to step down.

"In the years ahead, Libya could become a peaceful democracy or it could face protracted civil war, or it could descend into chaos" she told lawmakers in Washington.

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