WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House announced sweeping new sanctions on Libya's government and temporarily abandoned its embassy in Tripoli on Friday, as a final flight carrying American citizens departed from the war-ravaged capital.
The Obama administration announced unilateral sanctions against the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the government was working with international allies at the United Nations on other pressure to ease violence that erupted in recent days.
Carney said President Barack Obama will meet with the United Nations secretary general in Washington on Monday to discuss the situation in Libya.
Carney did not immediately describe the sanctions in detail, but U.S. Treasury officials warned American banks and financial institutions that they were required to scrutinize "private banking accounts held by or on behalf of senior foreign political figures" and any transactions involving diverted or illegal funds.
Libya, which Transparency International ranks among the world's most corrupt countries, has enormous assets to plunder. According to a confidential U.S. State Department cable posted by WikiLeaks, the head of the Libyan Investment Authority said last year that "several" United States banks manage between $300 million and $500 million in Libyan assets. According to the cable, Mohamed Layas told U.S. Ambassador Gene Kretz that the country's so-called sovereign wealth fund, which invests Libya's enormous oil profits, had $32 billion in cash and other liquid assets.
The Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, a Canadian research organization, estimates that Libya's Investment Authority controls total assets of $70 billion, making it the 13th largest such fund in the world.
The U.S. maintained a stiff embargo against Libya, but in recent years had begun easing some restrictions as a result of Gadhafi's willingness to cooperate in ending his nuclear ambitions and aiding in counterterrorism efforts.
Carney hinted that the sanctions will likely target Gadhafi and his inner leadership circle. "Targeted actions that affect senior political leadership have been shown to have an effect," he said.
He said that U.S. intelligence agencies would closely monitor Libyan officials for any evidence of involvement in human rights violations. "We want to make sure that violations of human rights are held accountable," he said.
A U.S. official said the Tripoli embassy's operations were suspended when a chartered flight took the last embassy staff out of the country at 1:49 p.m. That followed a ferry that departed earlier Friday for Malta with 300 Americans aboard.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the embassy was shut down because of the deteriorating security situation in Libya, where protests against Gadhafi's 42-year rule have become an armed insurrection.
The removal of the last official U.S. personnel could prompt the Obama administration to take tougher measures against Libya's government. It could impose travel bans, freeze assets and take other steps against Gadhafi loyalists, but officials said the timing for any action was unclear.
Obama was briefing world leaders on U.S. plans and coordinating international pressure on Gadhafi's government to stop violence against opponents. International officials say thousands may be dead.
The president spoke Friday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and they discussed measures to hold Libya's government accountable for its "unacceptable" violence, the White House said. Obama spoke with leaders from the United Kingdom, France and Italy on Thursday.
The U.S. moves follow Thursday's order by the Swiss government blocking any assets in Switzerland belonging to Gadhafi.
In Geneva, U.S. diplomats joined a unanimous condemnation of Libya at the U.N. Human Rights Council. Countries there also agreed to establish an investigation into possible crimes against humanity in Gadhafi's crackdown on protesters and recommended that Libya be suspended from the body.
The U.N. Security Council in New York was expected to discuss the situation in the Arab country later Friday. NATO is discussing deploying ships and surveillance aircraft to the Mediterranean Sea.
Associated Press writers Bradley Klapper and Ben Feller contributed to this report.
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