March 17-- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that options being considered for action against Libya include the use of drones, bombing air defense systems and arming rebel forces.
Clinton, in a reply to questions by reporters on a trip to Tunisia, said “those kinds of specificities are exactly what’s being negotiated and debated as we speak in New York” at the United Nations. Asked in Tunis today if the U.S. was considering sending ground forces to fight troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, Clinton said “no.”
“But it is important to recognize that military experts across the world know that a no-fly zone requires certain actions to be taken to protect the planes and the pilots, including bombing targets like the air defense systems,” Clinton said.
UN discussions are due to resume today and may be followed by a vote on measures against Qaddafi. The U.S. has signaled it will back the imposition of a no-fly zone and other military action, though there is no unanimity among Security Council members. NATO’s chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said the alliance must be prepared for “all eventualities.” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle opposed military action and called for tougher sanctions.
Clinton, asked if Arab nations might participate in establishing a no-fly zone by contributing pilots or planes, said: “That is also being discussed.”
No Land Forces
Asked whether the Security Council is considering an intervention by land over the Egyptian or Tunisian borders, specifically for U.S. forces to use land crossings, Clinton said, “No, there is no discussion of that.”
Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, scoffed at the Security Council debate on a no-fly zone. “It’s too late,” he said in an interview with EuroNews television, according to a transcript on its website. “In 48 hours, we will have finished our military operation. We are at the gates of Benghazi.”
Clinton visited the region as Qaddafi’s warplanes bombed Benghazi airport, Al Jazeera television reported, bringing the war to Libya’s opposition stronghold for the first time.
She visited Egypt before arriving in Tunisia and announced more than $2 billion in economic aid for the region and “several hundred million” dollars to help Tunisia create the economic growth needed to stabilize as it makes the transition to democracy.
“We understand that the people of Tunisia do not want democracy just for its own sake,” Clinton said. “They expect democracy to deliver jobs and opportunities that will help them prosper and take advantage of the global economy.”
The U.S. is seeking to increase private investment in Tunisia and Egypt after both nations ousted their leaders through public protests, she said.
Clinton met Tunisian interim President Fouad Mebazaa today and Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi and will appear at a town hall meeting with ordinary Tunisians.
Tunisia’s credit rating was cut one notch to BBB- on March 16 at Standard & Poor’s, which said the country’s political turmoil this year has hurt its economic prospects.
S&P assigned a stable outlook to the rating because it expects the transition after the nation’s regime change will lead to a mainly temporary drag on economic growth and public finances.
The U.S. aid to Tunisia would be in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees and political risk insurance, Clinton said.
At a press conference with Foreign Minister Mouldi Kefi, Clinton said the U.S. would explore setting up a Tunisian- American Enterprise Fund and organizing conferences to connect American investors with Tunisian entrepreneurs.
She also announced a program backed by Microsoft Corp. to make information technology available to Tunisian civil society groups that advocate human rights, democracy, civic education and the disabled.
Three weeks of protests over high food prices, unemployment and political repression forced former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali out of power on Jan. 14.
The Tunisian protests touched off anti-government unrest in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Iran and Iraq. The popular uprisings led to the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and fierce fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Libya’s Qaddafi.
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