By David Morgan
(Reuters) – U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said on Tuesday the United States will keep pressure on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi until he steps down, while working to stabilize oil prices and avert a possible humanitarian crisis.
Speaking in a series of interviews on U.S. television, Rice stopped short of saying the Obama administration was ready to impose a no-fly zone over Libya that would prevent Gaddafi from using aircraft against rebels fighting to end his 41-year rule.
The United States has stepped up political and financial pressure on Gaddafi this week by moving warships and aircraft closer to Libya and freezing $30 billion of assets.
“We are going to keep the pressure on Gaddafi until he steps down and allows the people of Libya to express themselves freely and determine their own future,” Rice told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
The military preparations and tougher U.S. rhetoric follow criticism of President Barack Obama’s administration by Republican lawmakers, conservative commentators and others for an initially cautious response to the turmoil in Libya.
Rice said it was premature to talk about U.S. material support for rebels because the opposition to Gaddafi has yet to coalesce into a clear-cut, unified front.
“We are in communication with leaders of civil society, all aspects of Libyan life,” Rice told NBC’s “Today” show. “We are not going to be in the business of picking leaders or dictating how that transition ought to evolve.”
The turmoil in oil-exporting Libya and concerns about potential supply disruptions amid protests in other parts of the Arab world sent oil prices to a 2-1/2 year high last week and spawned market worries that high energy costs could undermine the global economy.
Saudi Arabia has since acted to calm markets by pledging to pump more oil. Higher exports are also expected from other producers including Iraq, Iran and Nigeria.
“This is a situation that does have potential implications for oil supply, oil prices. We obviously would like to see production at a level that keeps prices steady and we’re obviously working with our partners to ensure that’s the case,” Rice said on ABC.
“We’re talking to all sorts of partners that have excess capacity,” she added.
Rice told CBS’ “The Early Show” that a main concern for U.S. policymakers is humanitarian.
“The movement of assets that was described and the preparations that are under way are for the possibility … that there could be a real humanitarian disaster in Libyan as this situation unfolds,” she said.
(Editing by Eric Beech)