Obama: Gadhafi Should Leave Office

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In a news conference today with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, President Obama said that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has "lost legitimacy" — and called on him to leave office.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

President Obama said today that he is outraged by the situation in Libya and that Moammar Gadhafi must leave. These were his strongest words yet about the ongoing violence there.

He made the comments in an appearance with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from the White House.

ARI SHAPIRO: President Obama has only spoken about Libya in front of TV cameras once. That was a week ago when he did not demand that Gadhafi leave. So today's statement moves the ball forward.

President BARACK OBAMA: Let me just be very unambiguous about this. Colonel Gadhafi needs to step down from power and leave.

SHAPIRO: The president spoke to reporters in the East Room, standing side by side with Mexico's president in front of Mexican and American flags. Mr. Obama said the top priority in Libya right now is to help tens of thousands of foreign nationals fleeing the country get home.

Pres. OBAMA: I have therefore approved the use of U.S. military aircraft to help move Egyptians who have fled to the Tunisian border to get back home to Egypt. I've authorized USAID to charter additional civilian aircraft to help people from other countries find their way home.

SHAPIRO: The president did not discuss specific military actions that the U.S. might take to support Libyan rebels. All options are on the table, he said, including a no-fly zone. That's something Defense Secretary Robert Gates discouraged yesterday. He told Congress a no-fly zone would require bombing Libya.

President Obama said the U.S. is looking longer term, as well. There's a possibility that Gadhafi won't leave and Libya could be heading for a long bloody stalemate.

Pres. OBAMA: What I want to make sure of is that the United States has full capacity to act potentially rapidly if the situation deteriorated in such a way that you had a humanitarian crisis on our hands.

SHAPIRO: In the last week, many U.S. officials have tried to isolate Gadhafi by encouraging people in his inner circle to abandon the leader. President Obama continued that effort today, saying those who commit violence against civilians will be held accountable.

Pres. OBAMA: And so, to the extent that they are making calculations in their own minds about which way history is moving, they should know history is moving against Colonel Gadhafi.

SHAPIRO: Although the White House presented this as a news conference, Presidents Obama and Calderon took only two questions each. The other question involved whether to arm American border agents working to fight drug smuggling in Mexico. That has become an issue since a U.S. immigration agent was killed in Mexico last month.

Calderon flatly said that arming those agents would be illegal in Mexico and President Obama dismissed the possibility, too.

Pres. OBAMA: We are in an advisory capacity. We do not carry out law enforcement activities inside of Mexico.

SHAPIRO: Mexico and the United States have had a tense relationship in the last year. The U.S. blames Mexico for letting drugs flow north, Mexico blames the U.S. for letting guns flow south. The two presidents tried to smooth over those differences today. They said the drug problem is a shared responsibility and they announced progress on other issues: trade, oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and cross-border trucking.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.

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