WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, armed with new U.N. Security sanctions on Libya's embattled leader Moammar Gadhafi, headed for Geneva Sunday to consult with allies on the next steps to end the country's crisis.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Clinton both toughened their rhetoric Saturday, saying the longtime Libyan strongman must depart now and stop his bloody battle to crush a spreading rebellion against his rule.
Clinton will meet with key European foreign ministers as well as Arab and African envoys in Geneva, where Monday she will become the first U.S. secretary of state to address the U.N. Human Rights Council.
U.S. officials say Clinton's trip is aimed at coordinating the international response to Libya's crisis, with Washington insisting that the world "speak with one voice" on stemming the violence and bringing Gadhafi to justice.
The U.N. Security Council Saturday unanimously imposed what Washington said were "biting sanctions" in the form of travel bans and asset freezes on Gadhafi and his family.
The resolution adopted by the 15-nation council also called for the immediate referral of the deadly crackdown to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for investigation and possible prosecution of anyone responsible for killing civilians.
The Obama administration has been criticized by rights groups and others for moving too slowly on Libya, the latest country hit by spreading turmoil and anti-government protests across the Middle East. But White House officials said fears for the safety of Americans in the country had tempered Washington's response to the turmoil.
Washington announced a series of sanctions against Libya on Friday after a chartered ferry and a plane carrying Americans and other evacuees left Libya.
Clinton, in a statement on Saturday, said the United States was working to mobilize a strong and unified response from the international community, and echoed Obama's demand for Gadhafi to step down.
"We are also working with partners to determine how to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need," Clinton said, saying the United States "will continue to look at the full range of options to hold the Libyan government accountable."
Washington is considering steps including sanctions and a "no-fly" zone to try to stop Gadhafi's suppression of anti-government protests, which diplomats estimate has killed an estimated 2,000 people in two weeks of violence.
While Western governments are trying to ratchet up pressure, it remains unclear how long Gadhafi, with some thousands of loyalists, might hold out against rebel forces comprised of youthful gunmen and mutinous soldiers.
© 2017 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.