The United States said on Wednesday it was looking at imposing sanctions on Libya to punish it for a violent crackdown on protesters, balancing tougher rhetoric with efforts to safely evacuate Americans.
"We're looking at a full range of tools and options," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. "That certainly includes looking at sanctions that could be imposed."
President Barack Obama "strongly condemned" the violence in Libya and would address the situation in the oil-producing North African country on Wednesday or Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
In the meantime, Washington would continue to work with the United Nations in reviewing various options, he said.
European Union governments agreed on Wednesday to prepare possible sanctions on Libya in response to Muammar Gadhafi's violent crackdown on anti-government protests, EU diplomats said.
"They agreed in a statement to take further measures. In diplomatic terms, it means sanctions," said one EU diplomat after a meeting in Brussels to discuss the issue.
Experts will now draw up a list of proposed measures, which could include visa bans, asset freezes, an arms embargo and other restrictions, before EU governments agree when to impose them.
But diplomats and analysts say that getting international agreement on sanctions would be protracted and possibly unsuccessful, making it more likely that countries such as the United States would have to go it alone.
Crowley said Washington was looking at the possibility of freezing Libyan assets, including those of its leader, Muammar Gadhafi, but no decision had been made yet.
Crowley's comments marked the toughest U.S. response to date on the bloodshed in Libya in which hundreds of people are reported to have been killed by security forces backed by tanks and warplanes.
U.S. officials suggested the earlier muted U.S. response to the violence was due to fears that Gadhafi could retaliate against U.S. citizens in Libya.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy pressed Wednesday for European Union sanctions against Libya's regime because of its violent crackdown on protesters, and raised the possibility of cutting all economic and business ties between the EU and the North African nation.
"The continuing brutal and bloody repression against the Libyan civilian population is revolting," Sarkozy said in a statement. "The international community cannot remain a spectator to these massive violations of human rights."
The British government urged Libyan authorities on Monday to immediately cease violence against pro-democracy demonstrators and open a genuine dialogue.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Italy, which has widespread business interests in Libya, particularly in the energy sector, was concerned about developments. "We need a European comprehensive action plan," Frattini said, "we should support all peaceful transitional processes that are ongoing in the Middle East while avoiding a patronizing position."
An EU draft statement prepared for a meeting earlier this week said, "The Council condemns the ongoing repression against peaceful demonstrators in Libya and deplores the violence and the death of civilians."
The draft statement further stated that "freedom of expression and the right to assemble peacefully are fundamental rights of every human being which must be respected and protected."
The American Jewish Committee called Monday on the United Nations General Assembly to suspend Libya’s membership from the United Nations Human Rights Council in light of the recent human rights violations in the country.
“The Gadhafi regime’s widespread use of brutal force against protesters makes a mockery of the UN Human Rights Council,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris.
“Libya’s membership in the Human Rights Council is clearly incompatible with the noble aims of the world body, as enshrined in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other relevant human rights instruments,” said Harris.
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