WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Friday that the United States will assist if international force is needed to stop Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi from killing his people, but will not send American ground troops to Libya or take over the effort.
"The United States is prepared to act as part of an international coalition," Obama said in afternoon remarks from the East Room of the White House after a Situation Room meeting with 18 key members of Congress.
"American leadership is essential but that does not mean acting alone. It means shaping the conditions for the international community to act together."
Obama said he did not take intervention lightly but that the humanitarian threat and implications for all of the North African and the Gulf states now facing civil unrest are too great.
"Left unchecked we have every reason to believe Gadhafi would commit atrocities against his people," he said. "Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue.
"The entire region could be destabilized endangering many of our allies and our partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun."
Obama said that Gadhafi's only chance to head off international use of force is to immediately implement a cease fire, stop troops from advancing on Benghazi and other rebel-held cities, reestablish cut water, electricity and gas supplies and allow humanitarian aid. "These terms are not negotiable," Obama said.
The president said he has directed Defense Secretary Robert Gates to coordinate planning with international partners and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will to travel to Paris to discuss plans with partners.
The United States will provide "unique capabilities" including "enabling" European partners to enforce a no-fly zone, Obama said.
He also said he wanted to make clear that, "The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya and we are not going to use force to go beyond a well defined goal, specifically the protection of civilians in Libya."
Repeatedly emphasizing a multilateral approach and presenting the United States as a partner rather than the leader of the effort, Obama said that "it is not an action that we will pruuse alone" and that the British, French and Arab League "have already committed to taking a leadership role in the enforcement of this resolution."
"This is precisely how the international community should work," he said.