Obama: Qaddafi regime's "days are numbered"

NEW YORK - A day after President Obama by saying that he authorized the use of military action to protect civilians from a "massacre," he told CBS News that the regime of Muammar Qaddafi knows its "days are numbered."

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In an interview with CBS News' Erica Hill Tuesday, Mr. Obama answered questions about possible negotiations with Qaddafi's regime, possible terror alliances within the pro-democracy rebellion and the United States' goals in Libya.

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Mr. Obama: The noose has tightened around him, and we are now going to be moving into a phase where, having maintained the no-fly zone, continuing to protect the Libyan people, we've gotta ratchet up our diplomatic and our political pressure on him so that at some point he makes a decision to leave.

Hill: Are there also discussions and even perhaps meetings at all with people in Muammar Qaddafi's camp?

Mr. Obama: Well, I think that Qaddafi's camp, people around him, are starting to recognize that their options are limited and their days are numbered, and so they're probably reaching out to a range of different people. But that information may not have filtered to Qaddafi yet, and I think it's too early for us to start having formal negotiations. Qaddafi knows exactly what he needs to do to stop the constant bombardment that he's under, and it may at some point shift to him figuring out how to negotiate an exit, but I don't think we're at that point yet.

Hill: The supreme allied commander for NATO said today that there are flickers of al Qaeda and Hezbollah amongst these rebels. How do we know what their end goal is? And how do we know they won't, in fact, turn on the U.S. and on our allies?

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Mr. Obama: Well, first of all, I think it's important to note that the people that we've met with have been fully vetted, so we have a clear sense of who they are, and so far they're saying the right things, and most of them are professionals, lawyers, doctors, people who appear to be credible. That doesn't mean that all the people, among all the people who opposed Qaddafi there might not be elements that are unfriendly to the United States and our interests.

That's why I think it's important for us not to jump in with both feet but to carefully consider: What are the goals of the opposition? What kind of transition do they want to bring about inside of Libya? Because our main concern here is the Libyan people as well as stability in the region.

Hill: Can you give us an idea of what some of those goals are? Beyond just removing Qaddafi from power?

Mr. Obama: Well, so far, as I've said, they've said the right things. They'd like to see free and fair elections. They believe that human rights need to be respected inside of Libya. And so if you look at the documents that they've prepared and presented, I think that they are on the right track.

It is important for us to have some modesty also about that process in Libya. Ultimately Libya's governance is going to be up to the Libyan people.

Hill: You mentioned the region. There's obviously so much focus on the region at this point. From everything we've seen over the last couple of months, there is renewed focus, though, on Syria. What would it take, what circumstances in particular would lead to direct involvement from the U.S. in Syria?

Mr. Obama: We'll monitor the situation. And to the extent that we think we can have an impact that's positive inside of Syria or anywhere else in the region, we will do so. But when it comes to military intervention I think, you know, the circumstances in which we start getting engaged in military operations have to be very narrowly drawn, and that's what I tried to communicate last night.

(Programming note: Watch more of Erica Hill's interview with President Obama Wednesday morning on "The Early Show")

  • Erica Hill

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