White House: Gadhafi isolated

With fighting in Libya continuing, White House officials addressed U.S. plans but did not appear ready for military action.

National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said Thursday that embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has been successfully isolated from the rest of the world.

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As evidence mounts that Gadhafi has succeeded in maintaining his frayed grip on power, Donilon and White House officials warned that the Libyan leader will not be forced from power "overnight."

"The leader of the Libyan regime, Moammar Gadhafi, has clearly shown he doesn't intend to leave just because we said so, because the international community said so," said White House press secretary Jay Carney.

Carney said that Gadhafi is "hunkering down," and the U.S. is in direct contact with opposition groups in Libya. Carney said the U.S. is looking at rebel leaders to determine what their leadership stands for, how they would lead a post-Gadhafi Libya and to "determine the best way we can assist their aspirations."

Donilon announced that the United States is sending humanitarian aid teams to Eastern Libya, but those teams should in "no way, shape or form be seen as military intervention."

White House officials said Thursday that Donilon's decision to brief reporters about the turmoil in the Middle East, and specifically Libya, was not a response to criticisms that Obama has failed to lead as violence and bloodshed continue.

Carney has repeatedly pushed back on that suggestion, raised again Thursday as French President Nicolas Sarkozy took an increasingly hawkish tone toward Gadhafi.

"I need everybody to remember that three weeks and two days ago, this situation did not exist," Carney said.

Carney said Obama, both unilaterally and in concert with foreign leaders, has ramped up pressure on Gadhafi on a daily basis, successfully isolating the embattled leader by freezing assets and consulting with the international community.

The White House claimed success in isolating Gadhafi, with Donilon saying that the international community has moved rapidly and successfully to "squeeze him, isolate him, really turn him into a pariah."

The United States and NATO continued to increase naval assets in the region, preparing both for humanitarian missions and potential military intervention.

Donilon said that it is important that "these assets, which are substantial and have command and control aspects – which are very important – are ready to go."

But momentum for a no-fly zone appears to have stalled in an administration skeptical of how effective such military intervention could be despite some calls from U.S. lawmakers and European leaders to do so. Still, Carney and Donilon insisted that the president and the international community continue to consider a no-fly zone as one option. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will travel to Egypt and Tunisia next week, also announced Thursday that the U.S. is suspending the Libyan embassy’s operations in the Washington.

"We will not recognize them as representatives of Libya," Carney said.

With Libya only the latest country to experience heavy unrest, Donilon said the U.S. is looking at the broader situation in the Middle East, telling reporters "it is hard to overstate the significance of the historic change sweeping the region."

"Change is the order of the day in the Middle East right now," Donilon said.