MADRID (AP) ― The U.S. and Spain said Saturday they won’t let Moammar Gadhafi’s threats of retaliatory attacks in Europe deter their mission to protect Libyan civilians and force him to leave power after four decades of often unpredictable and sometimes violent rule.
“Instead of issuing threats, he should be putting the well-being and interests of his own people first,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.
“He should step down from power.”
Speaking in Spain on the last leg of a three-nation European tour, Clinton brushed aside Gadhafi’s brazen warning Friday that unless NATO halted air attacks against his regime, he would retaliate with attacks on civilians in Europe.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a speech on Friday in Vilnius, Lithuania. (AFP-Yonhap News)
Gadhafi told a large pro-government rally in Tripoli that “homes, offices and families” would become legitimate military targets.
It was unclear how Gadhafi would make good on his threats and despite his past backing for various militant groups, whether the latest outburst amounted to anything more than a political rallying cry from a leader given to outlandish rhetoric.
He delivered his message by telephone from an unknown location.
Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University, said he believed Gadhafi would struggle to launch any kind of operation against Europe.
“I would have thought he is so engaged in trying to survive, that starting any operation out of Libya would be difficult,” he said.
“The real question is whether there are any operatives abroad already who could be motivated to start some actions.”
Libya once provided arms to the IRA, but Rogers said he did not believe Gadhafi could deal again with Northern Ireland.
There are some Irish splinter groups operating outside the peace process, but they are contained within Ireland.
British officials said they were taking the threats seriously, but no special security precautions had been put in place.
They also believed that Gadhafi’s military capability had been significantly weakened by NATO attacks. Norway and Sweden also said that no extra security measures would be taken.
“He’s now verbalizing something that we had been preparing for once the military operations began,” said a British government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about security matters.
Appearing alongside Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez at a news conference in Madrid, Clinton said Gadhafi must end military operations. She insisted that NATO’s mission to protect civilians was on track and that the pressure on Gadhafi to cede power was mounting.
“The rebels are gaining strength and momentum,” Clinton said. “We need to see this through.”
Jimenez said Gadhafi’s threats wouldn’t diminish Spain’s resolve.
“We will continue exerting the same military and political pressure,” she said, “to protect Libyan citizens from the threat and the use of military violence by Colonel Gadhafi.”
Asked about the opposition by some African leaders to the international arrest warrant against Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and Libya’s intelligence chief, Clinton noted that the referral for action came in a United Nations resolution.
Nigeria, Gabon and South Africa, the three African members of the Security Council, voted in favor, she noted.