Arab League Mulls 'No Fly' Zone Over Libya, but U.S. Cautious

Secretary General Amr Moussa decries violence against civilians; Clinton: U.S. a long way from making decision; Gates: No fly zone would have to begin with attack.

The Arab League said on Wednesday it could impose a "no fly" zone on Libya in coordination with the African Union if fighting continued in the north African state.

"The Arab League will not stand with its hands tied while the blood of the brotherly Libyan people is spilled," Secretary-General Amr Moussa said.

One of the steps it could take would be to enforce a "no fly" zone in cooperation with the African Union, he said.

The Arab League has suspended the membership of Muammar Gadhafi's government in protest at its crackdown on protesters who have risen up against his rule.

But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a congressional hearing that she believes Washington is a "long way" from making such a decision, even as the United
States intensified pressure on Gadhafi to step down.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the same hearing that setting up a "no-fly" zone over Libya would require an attack to cripple its air defenses.

"Let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses ... and then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down," Gates said.
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, however, said that the international community should be ready to implement a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Gadhafi's attacks on his own civilians,

"A no-fly zone is not a long-term proposition ... and I believe we ought to be ready to implement it as necessary," Kerry said at the beginning of the committee hearing.

The United States is moving several amphibious assault ships to the Mediterranean as the United States and other nations seek to force a defiant Gadhafi to end his 41-year rule in the face of an uprising by fragmented groups of rebels.

Other Western nations have also been considering a no-fly zone.

While the Obama administration says all options are on the table, Washington may be reluctant to initiate military action as it grapples with the financial and human costs of two long, bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gates said a no-fly zone for Libya "also requires more airplanes than you can find on a single aircraft carrier, so it is a big operation in a big country."