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Obama: ‘Noose Is Tightening’ on Gadhafi Despite Military Stalemate

April 15, 2011 at 6:01 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: The air campaign over Libya marked the end of its first month today, with Moammar Gadhafi still in power and his forces still fighting.

In an interview with the Associated Press, President Obama agreed it’s a standoff, but he said there’s no need for the U.S. to resume a primary role.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You now have a stalemate on the ground militarily, but Gadhafi is still getting squeezed in all kinds of other ways. He’s running out of money. He is running out of supplies.

The noose is tightening. And he is becoming more and more isolated. And my expectation is that if we continue to apply that pressure and continue to protect civilians, which NATO is doing very capably, then I think, over the long term, Gadhafi will go.

JIM LEHRER: In a newspaper opinion article, the president and other leaders said the campaign would continue so long as Gadhafi is in power.

But in Tripoli, the Libyan leader’s supporters shouted their defiance.

And we have a report from Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN MILLER: By midnight, the supporters of Gadhafi united had worked themselves into a frenzy of adoration. This is the Shabab, the green-blooded Libyan youth high on Gadhafi.

The article penned by the leaders of Britain, France and America demanding that Col. Gadhafi must go, and go for good, is meaningless rhetoric to the hard core who love him.

“That’s an insult to the people of Libya,” shouted the colonel’s only surviving daughter, Aisha. “My father lives in the hearts of all Libyans.” Her sister was killed in this very building by an American bomb 25 years ago. “A quarter-of-a-century later, the same missiles and bombs are raining down on my children and yours,” said Aisha Gadhafi. “Leave our skies,” she yelled. “Take your weapons and missiles away.”

But NATO’s now promising more warplanes in Libya’s skies, more bombs, more missiles.

WILLIAM HAGUE, British foreign secretary: The tempo will be maintained, as set out in the NATO statement. We are talking to other countries about providing more strike assets, as we have discussed earlier in the week.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO secretary-general: NATO is absolutely determined to continue its operation for as long as there is a threat against Libyan civilians. And it’s impossible to imagine that threat disappear with Gadhafi in power.

JONATHAN MILLER: France is now pressing for NATO approval to extend airstrikes to strategic logistical targets. Until now, targets have been confined to Libyan military assets. The French want to weaken Gadhafi by hitting hard, where it hurts, they say.

Russia warned against the use of excessive military force today, so as to avoid civilian casualties. But civilians continue to die in Misrata, a city described by Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama today as being under medieval siege, where people continue to suffer terrible horrors at the hands of Gadhafi.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There were new confrontations across other parts of the Arab world today.

Jeffrey Brown has that story.

JEFFREY BROWN: Witnesses in Syria claimed up to 100,000 people marched on Damascus today in the boldest move of the month-old protests.

Cellphone video on websites showed chanting, banner-waving crowds demanding an end to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The huge turnout came just outside the Syrian capital. Protesters said police fired tear gas and used riot batons but did not repeat last week’s shootings that killed 37 people.

To the south, at least 20,000 marched in Daraa, a center of the upheaval. Earlier this week, they’d attacked a statue of the late President Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president.

Meanwhile, in Yemen, on the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, the 32-year regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh was still teetering after months of violent protest in the Arab world’s poorest nation. The embattled president addressed a large pro-government rally today and appealed to the opposition.

ALI ABDULLAH SALEH, president of Yemen (through translator): We ask the Joint Meeting Party to follow their conscience and proceed with dialogue, so that we can agree on a conclusion for the sake of the security and the stability of Yemen.

JEFFREY BROWN: Saleh has been an American ally in the war on al-Qaida, and the U.S. has extensive covert operations there. But Yemen’s security forces have killed hundreds during the protests, and the Obama administration has shifted to trying to ease Saleh from power.

Elsewhere on the peninsula, the tiny island nation of Bahrain also remains in turmoil and a key concern, as host to the U.S. Fifth Fleet and a bulwark against Iranian ambitions in the Persian Gulf.

The ruling Sunni minority cracked down weeks ago, tearing up and carting away the iconic Pearl monument, where the protests, led by majority Shiites, were centered. The government also requested troops from neighboring Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf nations to help put down dissent. The Bahraini government’s crackdown included an announcement yesterday that it was disbanding two leading opposition parties.

A U.S. State Department spokesman offered this response.

MARK TONER, State Department spokesman: Certainly, as I said, we have been — we have been candid in voicing our concerns about some of these recent actions. But we believe that there is a peaceful way forward, and we believe that that can be achieved.

JEFFREY BROWN: Bahrain later said it would delay the action against the two parties.

The U.S. has walked a fine line in Bahrain. During a visit last month, Defense Secretary Gates urged the kingdom to go beyond baby steps toward reform.

In Washington today, hundreds of Bahrainis gathered outside the Saudi Embassy to protest the Saudi involvement in their country.

MIRNA SALIM, protester: Saudi Arabia is actually helping them, with al-Khalifa. They send troops, their weapons, everybody. They’re helping them. And we want to stop this. We don’t want anybody helping them, because this is wrong.

JEFFREY BROWN: Others said the U.S. needed to live up to its own ideals on a consistent basis.

HUSAIN ABDULLA, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain: We cannot pick and choose which revolution or peaceful revolution to support. We need to support the values that we stand on here, which is human rights, justice, and democracy. And that’s exactly what the people of Bahrain are asking for.

JEFFREY BROWN: The marchers then headed to the White House to deliver that message in person.