Obama says he's still weighing his options on Libya

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 11, 2011 

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President Barack Obama spoke about the earthquake in Japan and rising energy prices at a Washington D.C. press conference

OLIVIER DOULIERY — Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Friday that U.S. and international actions are starting to have an impact on Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and that the U.S. is still debating military actions to stop Gadhafi from slaughtering more of his own people.

"Across the board, we are slowly tightening the noose on Gadhafi," Obama said at a White House news conference. "He is more and more isolated internationally both through sanctions as well as an arms embargo."

Likening Gadhafi's attacks to 1990s government attacks on people in the Balkans and in Rwanda, Obama said that the U.S. and the world have an obligation to protect innocent life.

He said that the round-the-clock surveillance of the country that NATO has ordered will provide "some sort of alert system if you start seeing defenseless civilians who're being massacred by Gadhafi's forces."

He repeated statements made for several days by his aides that he's weighing military options, including a possible allied effort to enforce a no-fly zone aimed at stopping Gadhafi from striking rebels from the air, but he announced no new actions.

"I have not taken any options off the table," Obama said.

On rising gas prices, Obama declined to release any oil from the Strategic Petroleum reserve, as some have called for; he said that supplies are adequate.

Speaking briefly about Friday's massive earthquake in Japan, Obama said the Pentagon was working to account for all of its personnel at U.S. bases, that the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo had moved its people to another location, and that the State Department was working to account for and assist U.S. citizens.

He said he'd spoken with Prime Minister Naoto Kan and offered assistance in rescue and recovery efforts. He said one U.S. aircraft carrier already was in Japan, another was on its way, and a third ship was en route to the Marianas Islands in case it's needed.

Moreover, he used the hastily called news conference to push back against criticism that he's contributed to rising gasoline prices by curbing oil drilling in the U.S.

"Last year, American oil production reached its highest level since 2003," Obama said. "Let me repeat that: Our oil production reached its highest level in seven years. Oil production from federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico reached an all-time high. For the first time in more than a decade, imports accounted for less than half of what we consumed.

"So any notion that my administration has shut down oil production might make for a good political soundbite, but it doesn't match up with reality."

Republicans shot back that domestic oil production is still lower than it was projected to be.

"While the Obama administration claims to be committed to American energy production, the facts and its own actions say otherwise," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement Friday.

"Under the Obama administration, domestic oil production has dropped by 16 percent versus projected levels, and future projections show continued decreases in domestic production. The administration has also shut down energy production in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts."

On another issue, Obama said he's satisfied that Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is being treated appropriately in detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Manning, accused of revealing national security secrets to WikiLeaks, was stripped and left naked in his cell for seven hours, according to his attorney. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, speaking for himself at an academic gathering, reportedly called the treatment of Manning counterproductive and stupid.

"I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards," Obama said when asked about the case.

"They assured me that they are. I can't go into details about some of their concerns, but some of this has to do with Private Manning's safety as well."

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