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The UN Security Council met in emergency session today to discuss the crisis in Libya. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had tough words for Moammar Gadhafi, saying the violence against protesters is unacceptable.

But NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that unlike in Egypt, the U.S. has little leverage to stop the bloodshed.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The U.N. Security Council condemned the violence wracking Libya, but stopped short of taking concrete steps to prevent it. Some activists wanted to see the council impose a no-fly zone to stop Libyan aircraft from firing on demonstrators.

Still, Secretary Clinton says the international community is coming together on the issue and speaking with one voice.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): We join the international community in strongly condemning the violence, as we've received reports of hundreds killed and many more injured. This bloodshed is completely unacceptable.

KELEMEN: Senator John Kerry, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, went further, saying the U.S. should put Gadhafi on notice that his, quote, "cowardly actions will have consequences."

Kerry says American and international oil companies should stop their operations in Libya until the attacks on civilians end. And Kerry says the U.S. should consider re-imposing sanctions that were lifted by the Bush administration.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley wouldn't rule that out down the road, but says for now, the U.S. is focused on trying to evacuate Americans. He also suggested that U.S. influence in Libya is limited.

Mr. P.J. CROWLEY (Spokesman, State Department): We want to see the bloodshed stop. Our calls have been very clear and very compelling. I don't know that we can do any more at this point.

KELEMEN: The U.S. has been careful to coordinate with others on this issue, so it's not seen as just the U.S. criticizing Gadhafi. The Libyan leader highlighted America's past history there when he spoke today in front of the ruins of his former residence, destroyed by U.S. airstrikes in 1986.

And it's not just the U.S. that lacks leverage in Libya these days, according to Rob Malley of the International Crisis Group. His organization is suggesting a series of steps that the U.S. should take together with the U.N., the Arab League and others if any outside pressure is to work.

Mr. ROB MALLEY (International Crisis Group): As they put pressure on Gadhafi to stop the mad violence that he's engaged in, people also have to be thinking about the day after.

KELEMEN: Unlike in Egypt, where there were institutions like the military that could take over the transition, Malley says Gadhafi's system of governance is all about him and his tribal alliances. He didn't even trust the army, Malley says, though Gadhafi came to power in a military coup.

Mr. MALLEY: Gadhafi has been everything, and he hasn't developed and Libya hasn't developed those institutions that could survive his fall. So once he goes, everything might go, and that's going to be a very, very difficult and very different kind of transition - if it came to pass, if it came to that a very different kind of transition to manage and a much greater challenge for the Libyans themselves.

KELEMEN: The International Crisis Group says there are some steps that can be taken now, though. They include targeted sanctions on Gadhafi and his associates; safe haven for pilots and other security personnel who refuse to carry out Gadhafi's orders; and an arms embargo to make sure the Libyan regime doesn't have the means to continue what it's doing.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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