Clinton pledges support on Libya amid feud

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Facing calls for greater US military action on Libya, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday promised support but also stressed the need for political measures to oust leader Moamer Kadhafi.

Clinton held talks in Berlin with NATO allies in the wake of calls by France and Britain, which have spearheaded the intervention to Kadhafi's attacks on his own people, for help sharing the burden of the nearly month-old campaign.

Meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the start of her visit, Clinton insisted that the 28-member Western alliance was on the same page on a range of global issues from Afghanistan to denuclearisation.

"We are also sharing the same goal which is to see the end of the Kadhafi regime in Libya. And we are contributing in many ways in order to see that goal realised," Clinton said.

Later at a NATO luncheon, Clinton said that the alliance and its partners "should be proud" of their intervention and that President Barack Obama's administration agreed with the aims.

"As President Obama made clear, we must see Kadhafi go. Only then can a viable transition move forward," Clinton said, according to her prepared remarks.

"New voices from inside and outside Libya have joined the calls for Kadhafi's departure," Clinton said. "For our part, the US is committed to our shared mission. We will strongly support the coalition until our work is completed."

But there was no indication the United States would offer more militarily. The Obama administration has made clear it has a plate full with an intensified war in Afghanistan, a residual military role in Iraq and a ballooning budget deficit which the world's biggest military power is struggling to trim.

Clinton instead emphasised political and financial pressure, calling for efforts to "tighten the squeeze" on Kadhafi's inner circle through asset freezes, travel bans and an aggressively enforced arms embargo.

Clinton welcomed an international meeting Wednesday in Qatar -- one of two Arab nations in the coalition -- which called for financial support to the rebels' so-called Transitional National Council.

It marked a sharp change from a meeting just a little over two weeks earlier in London where rebel representatives were not allowed to attend the plenary session.

"We all need to deepen our engagement with and increase our support for the opposition," Clinton said.

William Burns, the number three US diplomat, met at the Qatar talks with Mussa Kussa, the former Libyan foreign minister who defected to Britain on March 30, an official traveling with Clinton said.

Another US official traveling with Clinton tried to play down disagreements within the coalition over military action, saying that commanders had not asked for more firepower.

"I don't think there is a rift," the senior official said on condition of anonymity. "The targets that are out there are being hit."

"If the commanders need more capability, they will ask for it. They haven't asked for it," the official said.

But NATO officials have said that commanders sought greater resources from willing countries after the US pullback. Six nations are now involved in the operation -- France and Britain, along with Belgium, Canada, Denmark and Norway.

The United States on April 4 withdrew some 50 fighter jets from the NATO strike campaign in Libya, fulfilling a promise by Obama to limit the military action.

The Pentagon said Wednesday that US F-16 Falcons were still striking radar and other air defences to enforce a UN-mandated no-fly zone, although the United States was not taking part in other bombing runs.

© 2011 AFP

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