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White House defends Obama no fly stance

WASHINGTON, Mar 16 – The White House defended President Barack Obama\’s reluctance to order US forces to mount a "no fly" zone over Libya, following domestic criticism over his stance.

Debate over a no fly zone went on at the United Nations on Tuesday but risked being overtaken by advances by Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi against opposition forces.

"I do not believe that the American people would want the US president to act unilaterally in a way to engage militarily without taking careful consideration of what the consequences of that would be," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Obama met with top national security aides on Tuesday to review options for increasing pressure on Kadhafi, and instructed them to "fully engage" the UN, NATO and allies and friends in the region, the White House said.

Carney said the US president was "very mindful of the fact that the desired result here will be best achieved if we act in concert with our international partners.

"That is the position he\’s taken, and it\’s the position he takes today."

Obama critics in Congress and in the US foreign policy community have criticized the president as being too slow to respond to calls to mount a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians.

But the US leader has taken pains to ensure that Washington cannot be accused of interfering in or trying to shape the raging revolts in the Arab world, and has sought international backing for any military action.

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Pressure mounted on the president after the Arab League took the unprecedented step at the weekend of endorsing a no-fly zone, saying the Kadhafi regime had lost legitimacy.

France and Britain are still pushing the UN Security Council to implement a no-fly zone over Libya to help rebels, the French envoy said Tuesday.

"We are talking in terms of hours, and in terms of hours we do think that a no-fly zone is the least thing that we can do here," France\’s ambassador to the UN Gerard Araud told reporters.

He was speaking after French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said veto-wielding council member China was blocking UN action on Libya.

"If today we are stuck, it\’s not only because Europe is impotent, it\’s because at the Security Council, for now, China doesn\’t want any mention of a resolution leading to the international community\’s interference in a country\’s affairs," he said.

Earlier, Juppe told French lawmakers that amid the fierce assault by the Libyan leader\’s forces on the opposition rebels the no-fly zone plan had been overtaken by events.

"We feel that it\’s been overtaken, that that\’s not what today will stop Kadhafi\’s advance," Juppe said, adding "we need to talk about it, we could return to our proposal."

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