The Cable

U.S. announces sanctions on Libya, embassy shuttered

The White House announced on Friday afternoon that the United States will take punitive measures against the government of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi, including a weapons embargo, and individual sanctions against key government officials — but not a no-fly zone. "We’re finalizing the sanctions that we will pursue. The universe of effective sanctions is pretty ...

The White House announced on Friday afternoon that the United States will take punitive measures against the government of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi, including a weapons embargo, and individual sanctions against key government officials — but not a no-fly zone.

"We’re finalizing the sanctions that we will pursue. The universe of effective sanctions is pretty well known," said White House press secretary Jay Carney, declining to give specifics of the sanctions. He said that these steps could be followed by more steps in the near future.

A skeptical White House press corps asked Carney why the administration would have any confidence that sanctions could influence the decision making of Qaddafi, as he continues to slaughter his own people in a desperate bid to hold on to power.

"Targeted sanctions that affect senior leadership of a country like Libya have been shown to have an effect," Carney responded.

He also indicated that the lack of White House action to pressure the regime until this point was due to the need to maintain ties with the Libyan government until all U.S. personnel were evacuated.

"The focus [President Obama] has had is on our obligation to protect American citizens and also getting the policy right," Carney said, arguing that the administration has acted "with great deliberation and haste" and "there’s never been a time when this much has been done this quickly."

Carney declined to call for Qaddafi to step down, but did say that the Libyan people deserve a representative government of their own choosing and that "the status quo is neither tenable nor acceptable."

The State Department-sponsored ferry finally left Tripoli on Friday for Malta after being delayed by bad weather. It carries 39 U.S. government personnel, 144 U.S. citizens, and 155 international citizens. A U.S. charter aircraft also left Libya on Friday for Istanbul with more U.S. and international citizens on board.

"Americans who wanted to be evacuated were evacuated," Carney said.

Also on Friday, the State Department "shuttered" the U.S. embassy in Tripoli.

"The flag is still flying, the embassy is not closed, but operations are suspended," said Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy. "We did not break diplomatic relations."

The Libyan embassy in Washington is still up and running, a State Department official said.

Interactions between State Department officials and the Libyan government continue. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns spoke twice over the last two days with Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa and Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Feltman has spoken with Kusa several times, the State Department said.

Spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Thursday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to call Kusa earlier this week, but that the call could not be completed due to technical reasons. No attempts have been made to talk with Qaddafi directly, he said, but the State Department has passed him messages through unidentified third parties.

Clinton and Obama have also been working the phone, contacting friends and allies to coordinate the international response to the escalating tragedy in Libya. Obama spoke on Thursday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday.

Clinton will travel to Geneva on Monday to attend a meeting of the Human Rights Council, which issued a new resolution on Friday condemning the Libyan government and calling on the U.N. General Assembly to suspend the country from the commission. AFP reported that the European Union has also decided to impose various sanctions on the Libyan government.

The EU sanctions roughly match the U.S. sanctions, although neither has disclosed the details. But EU leaders have gone further than the Obama administration in calling for Qaddafi’s departure. French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said France and England will combine to call for Qaddafi to be tried in the International Criminal Court.

And on Friday, Sarkozy told a news conference, "Mr Qaddafi must leave."

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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