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U.S. considering sanctions and asset freezes on Libyan government

The United States is considering punitive measures against the Libyan government for using violence against peaceful protesters, the State Department said. Sanctions and asset freezes are being discussed by U.S. policymakers, but an international no-fly zone over Libya is less likely. President Barack Obama will make a statement on the situation in Libya at 5:15 ...

The United States is considering punitive measures against the Libyan government for using violence against peaceful protesters, the State Department said. Sanctions and asset freezes are being discussed by U.S. policymakers, but an international no-fly zone over Libya is less likely.

President Barack Obama will make a statement on the situation in Libya at 5:15 Wednesday, following a 3:45 p.m. meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and another meeting at 4:30 at the White House with a range of National Security officials, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said today. Obama's recent silence has drawn criticism among some circles in Washington that his administration has been slow to react to the unfolding crisis, but the administration claims it is acting prudently with limited information and with the interest of U.S. citizens' safety at heart.

A State Department official told The Cable that the United States has needed to maintain its relationship with the Libyan regime in order to ensure that it can safely evacuate U.S. citizens.

The United States is considering punitive measures against the Libyan government for using violence against peaceful protesters, the State Department said. Sanctions and asset freezes are being discussed by U.S. policymakers, but an international no-fly zone over Libya is less likely.

President Barack Obama will make a statement on the situation in Libya at 5:15 Wednesday, following a 3:45 p.m. meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and another meeting at 4:30 at the White House with a range of National Security officials, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said today. Obama’s recent silence has drawn criticism among some circles in Washington that his administration has been slow to react to the unfolding crisis, but the administration claims it is acting prudently with limited information and with the interest of U.S. citizens’ safety at heart.

A State Department official told The Cable that the United States has needed to maintain its relationship with the Libyan regime in order to ensure that it can safely evacuate U.S. citizens.

"Our highest priority at this point is making sure that all American citizens are allowed to leave the country and able to leave the country in safety. That’s the number one issue for us," the official said.

The official also said that the administration has been wary of getting out ahead of unfolding events in Libya due to the lack of reliable information coming out of the country.

"The situation has been complicated by the fact that we don’t have the eyes and ears that we have in other countries," the official said. "It’s Libya, so getting information is difficult. It’s hard to get an accurate readout of what’s going on in that country."

The most recent U.S. Ambassador Gene Cretz was recalled following WikiLeaks’ disclosure of diplomatic cables he had written about the Qaddafi family, including a description of a "voluptuous blonde" nurse that travels everywhere with Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. Meanwhile Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman has been the administration’s point man on Libya, and has spoken multiple times to Libyan Foreign Minister Mussa Kussa.

Clinton tried to call Kussa on Wednesday evening but the call was never completed, another State Department official told The Cable.

At today’s State Department briefing, Crowley said the administration was considering a range of options to pressure Qaddafi for his government’s attacks on peaceful protesters. He specifically mentioned multilateral sanctions and the freezing of any assets that Libyan officials may have in the United States.

"We’re looking at a full range of tools that are available to us… that certainly involves sanctions that could be imposed bilaterally or multilaterally," Crowley said, adding that such discussions would take place with international partners "in the coming days."

Crowley wouldn’t comment on calls for an international no-fly zone to be imposed over Libya. Several senior lawmakers have called directly for such action, including Sen. John McCain, (R-AZ), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA).

"The international community should consider all measures to end the carnage, including the possible establishment of a no-fly zone to protect Libyan citizens," Berman said. "Additionally, whatever assets Qaddafi and his henchmen have in the United States should be frozen immediately, and all other nations should take the same action."

Crowley didn’t rule out a no-fly zone, but indicated it wasn’t in the works in the near future.

"Whatever is contemplated, we do want it to be effective," Crowley said. "Any action that we would take along those lines would require international support. There is obviously a significant degree of difficulty in doing something like that."

Clinton struck a cautious note about the U.S. ability to influence Libyan behavior in this afternoon."[T]here

are many countries that have much closer relations with Libya than we do … But everything will be on the table," she said. "We will look at all the possible options to try to bring an end to the violence, to try to influence the government."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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