By Sam Youngman and Jordy Yager - 03/01/11 12:02 AM EST
The Obama administration raised the pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on Tuesday by freezing $30 billion in government assets.
The unprecedented measure by the Treasury Department came as U.S. officials raised their rhetoric against Gadhafi, with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice saying Gadhafi sounded “delusional” in seeking to hold on to power.
Rice said the haul by Treasury represented an “unprecedented” grab of assets. It is reportedly the largest amount of assets ever frozen by the U.S.
President Obama and Rice met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the crisis in Libya, where forces loyal to Gadhafi reportedly launched air strikes against rebels now in control of much of the country.
“There is no escaping that critical choice,” Rice said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney also sought to urge those in the government still loyal to Gadhafi to switch sides.
“If you are in the Libyan government, you have to think very, very hard about whose side you're on,” he said.
The administration had come under criticism last week for not being tough enough with Gadhafi, but Obama and his lieutenants have toughened their rhetoric since U.S. citizens, including embassy staff, were evacuated from Libya last week.
Rice on Monday blasted Gadhafi’s denials of atrocities against his own citizens as, “frankly, delusional.”
“It only underscores how unfit he is to lead, and how disconnected he is from reality,” Rice said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who likewise called on Gadhafi to step down immediately, told the United Nations Human Rights Council that the U.S. Agency for International Development was planning to devote about $10 million in aid funds to Libyan refugees.
Rice praised the U.N. Security Council for the unanimous resolution it passed over the weekend that called for the freezing of Libyan government assets and military aid to the country. It also referred all claims of abuse of the Libyan people directly to the U.N. International Court.
The European Union on Monday implemented an arms embargo on the country as British lawmakers announced plans to establish a military no-fly zone over Libya and France began sending several planes loaded with humanitarian aid to the country.
Rice and Carney noted repeatedly that while the U.S. is gearing up for a sizable humanitarian aid effort, all options, including military intervention, are on the table. One U.S. warship is in the Mediterranean, and Carney said the U.S. military has assets in the region that could be used for all options.
Despite the pressure, Gadhafi offered no signs that he will give up power.
“My people love me. They would die for me,” Gadhafi told ABC News during his first interview with a U.S. media outlet.
Forces loyal to Gadhafi struck back at rebels in two Libyan cities on Monday as the country appeared to edge closer to a civil war. Rebels last week struck a confident note that they were on the verge of toppling Gadhafi, but Monday’s counterattacks suggested Gadhafi still has strength in the country.
In his interview with ABC on Monday, Gadhafi criticized the West for turning its back on him.
“I'm surprised that we have an alliance with the West to fight al Qaeda, and now that we are fighting terrorists they have abandoned us,” he said. “Perhaps they want to occupy Libya.”
Carney confirmed administration chatter that the United States is “actively reaching out" to rebel groups in the country, but would not identify whom the U.S. had talked to. He said it would be “premature to make any decisions about recognizing one group or another.”