U.S. Tries To 'Dry Up' Gadhafi's Finances

The U.S. has put pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's regime by instituting sanctions. Former ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill tells Steve Inskeep that officials are trying to "dry up the finances" of Gadhafi.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Western powers are considering their options for ousting Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

INSKEEP: The U.S. Treasury Department has already frozen billions of dollars in assets linked to Gadhafi and his family - $30 billion. The Treasury says it's the largest such action in U.S. history.

MONTAGNE: At the same time, U.S. warships move closer to Libya. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with European leaders about possibly setting up a no-fly zone over that country, and Britain's prime minister ordered his military to work up plans to do that.

INSKEEP: So we've been talking through the options with Christopher Hill, a former U.S. diplomat whose experience ranges through past war zones, from the Balkans in the 1990s to Iraq in 2010.

What has the United States done so far to put pressure on the Libyan regime?

Mr. CHRISTOPHER HILL (Former U.S. Diplomat): Well, first of all, the U.S. has kind of led the charge on sanctions, and these would be pretty serious financial sanctions. There have also been efforts to help foreign nationals get out of the country. And I think over all, there's a growing consensus in the world that Mr. Gadhafi's days are numbered.

INSKEEP: These sanctions that you mentioned, these are targeted at individual like Moammar Gadhafi and his family?

Mr. HILL: Well, I mean, the problem with targeting sanctions at this point, you know, to say look, Mr. Gadhafi, you cannot have a visa to visit Disneyland or something, that's really not going to do. I think what they're really trying to do is to sort of dry up the finances for this guy. You know, he's done very well in terms of amassing a fortune.

It's very clear that Gadhafi, his days are numbered. And I think it's really a matter of days when he will depart the scene.

INSKEEP: When U.S. officials speak, as they have in recent days, of the International Criminal Court, what is the message that they are sending to Gadhafi or his supporters or his family?

Mr. HILL: Well, I think it's fair to say that already what has happened in Libya is the most bloody of these uprisings that we've seen all over the Arab world. But it continues to have the greatest potential for getting even bloodier. And so I think the United States, other countries are putting Gadhafi on notice about this, that he will be held personally responsible for this type of bloodshed.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about escalating options to the extent that that's appropriate. There's been a lot of talk of the possibility of establishing a no-fly zone over Libya. Is that a practical option?

Mr. HILL: It can be done, from a technical basis. You know, Libya does not have any massive amount of forces. We could certainly get probably even land-based air, but certainly sea-based air to patrol a no-fly zone. So I think it is a technically feasible option. And it has the added advantage, I think, of actually being more of a symbolic matter.

But frankly, to keep Libyan airplanes out of the air and out of the sort of the efforts as they've had to, you know, shoot at civilians, I think it makes a lot of practical and substantive sense.

INSKEEP: But, of course, behind the notion of a no-fly zone has to be the willingness to shoot something done, to open fire. What are the risks of the United States getting involved in a shooting war or anything resembling that in Libya?

Mr. HILL: Well, first of all, the risk of getting involved in a shoot-'em-up is the risk that it will help Gadhafi supporters to say this is all being engineered by foreigners, and look, they're in the air right now shooting at our airplanes. So I think you've got to be very careful that it doesn't appear that you are somehow leading this thing.

And, as you point out, if you actually shoot at somebody and hit them, I mean, that kind of puts you much more directly involved. And, as Secretary Gates said the other day, we're going to do our best to avoid getting involved in conflicts in the Middle East.

INSKEEP: How would you describe the speed of Western involvement in this crisis with other crises in the past - things that you've been involved with, like the Balkans crises, for example?

Mr. HILL: I believe that if anything, it has been more rapid. It's certainly been conditioned by the fact that there are sort of ongoing uprisings throughout the Arab world. And I think what has been of particular concern in Libya is the fact that we have a ruler who - by his own acknowledgement, his own statements - is prepared to move against civilians with lethal force.

So I think we've moved more quickly. I think it's appropriate to move more quickly. And as long as we have a kind of nuanced response to each issue, I think we'll do fine.

INSKEEP: Christopher Hill is a longtime U.S. diplomat. His most recent post was as ambassador to Iraq.

Ambassador, thanks very much.

Mr. HILL: Thank you.

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