WASHINGTON - The United States Tuesday tightened financial sanctions on the Libyan government and two influential senators pushed back against calls to halt funding for American involvement in NATO operations there.
Senators John Kerry and John McCain introduced a measure to formally authorize the U.S. military intervention in Libya for up to one year, and warned against critics who want Congress to act to stop U.S. involvement.
A Senate vote would send a message that Washington was committed to the conflict and would not abandon allies who are leading it, Kerry said. Pulling the plug would "doom the Libyan operation" and "undermine the very core of NATO," he warned.
The U.S. Treasury said it was blacklisting nine companies owned or controlled by Muammar Gaddafi's government.
The sanctions will prohibit U.S. transactions with the nine companies, including the Arab Turkish Bank, Tunisia-based North Africa International Bank and Lebanon-based North Africa Commercial Bank, the department said.
The Treasury also removed sanctions against former oil minister Shukri Mohammed Ghanem because he defected from Gaddafi's government in May.
Earlier this year, the United States lifted sanctions against former Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa, who fled to Britain on March 30, in an attempt to persuade other officials in Gaddafi's government to defect.
"To the extent that sanctioned individuals distance themselves from the Gaddafi regime, these measures can be lifted," Adam Szubin, the director of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement.
SNATCH DEFEAT FROM JAWS OF VICTORY
Kerry and McCain were responding to criticism from some lawmakers in both parties that U.S. involvement in the NATO attacks, mainly confined to logistical support and intelligence, is illegal because it has not been endorsed by a vote in Congress. The United States has also launched predator drone strikes on Libyan forces.
NATO is leading the United Nations-sanctioned mission to protect Libyan civilians from Gaddafi's forces. It has become a predominantly air campaign whose unstated goal appears to be to drive the Libyan leader from power.
Kerry, a Democrat, and McCain, a Republican, argued against efforts in the House of Representatives to cut off funds for U.S. engagement. This would "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory," Kerry said on the Senate floor.
McCain was the Republican nominee for president in 2008.
In the House, anti-war Democrat Dennis Kucinich plans to propose an amendment halting funds for the Libyan war when a defense spending bill comes to the floor later this week.
Members of the Republican House majority are debating whether to take other votes soon on the Libyan mission, House Speaker John Boehner's office said Tuesday night.
The Republicans were discussing whether to hold votes on two resolutions on Libya later this week. One would remove U.S. forces from Libya, except those involved in "non-hostile" actions such as search and rescue, intelligence and aerial re-fueling.
The other proposal under discussion would authorize the use of force in Libya as Kerry and McCain's proposal would do, Boehner's office said.
Boehner has harshly criticized Obama's handling of Libya, and scoffs at Obama's argument that the operations do not amount to "hostilities." But Boehner has not explicitly endorsed cutting off funds for the operation, and he said in the Tuesday evening statement that "we have no desire to damage the NATO alliance.". )
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