Clinton's Geneva trip seeks consensus on Libya

WASHINGTON Fri Feb 25, 2011 2:40pm EST

President Barack Obama speaks about Libya while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens in the White House in Washington February 23, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Barack Obama speaks about Libya while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens in the White House in Washington February 23, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will try to rally support against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Monday at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, a group Washington once dismissed as toothless.

Clinton's one-day trip will allow her to consult European and other foreign ministers as the United States examines options including sanctions and a "no-fly" zone to try to stop Gaddafi's violent suppression of anti-government protests.

"She is going to rally the council and the international community to make a continued forceful effort to address the ongoing situation in Libya and the Middle East," Suzanne Nossel, deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, told Reuters.

"It will help strengthen the unity of purpose in the international community ... to categorically reject the behavior of the Libyan government."

Clinton will be the first U.S. secretary of state to address the council, which the United States joined in 2009 after boycotting it for years amid charges it failed to confront abuses and acted primarily to condemn Israel, one of Washington's closest allies.

The 47-member body, long riven by ideological differences, on Friday adopted by consensus a resolution condemning violence by Libyan forces and launching an international inquiry into atrocities it said may amount to crimes against humanity.

It also voted to ask the U.N. General Assembly to consider expelling Libya from the group.

The U.N. Security Council and NATO were also set to hold meetings on Libya on Friday, signaling mounting concern over chaos in the North African nation, the world's 12th largest oil exporter.

FORGING A CONSENSUS

Political analysts said Clinton's trip to Geneva was aimed at coordinating with key European allies including Britain, France and Italy on the next steps, although they noted that Libya's crisis was fluid and the situation unpredictable.

U.S. officials have outlined a series of possible steps including stronger U.N. Security Council action and possible sanctions, a no-fly zone to prevent further government attacks, suspending Libya's export licenses and freezing the assets of certain Libyans, including Gaddafi family members.

"All of these issues have to be fleshed out, and the administration is lining up its position on these issue so she can present it in talks in Geneva," said Robert Danin, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"But the first question is what is going to happen to Gaddafi. Will we still be in a Gaddafi era or a post-Gaddafi era? That will dictate a lot."

U.S. officials say the Human Rights Council is a good place to start setting the parameters of international cooperation on Libya and could set the stage for more forceful Security Council action.

"If you are looking at any further ratcheting up of international pressure, that unity is very valuable," said Nossel of the State Department.

Charles Ries, director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy at the Rand Corporation, said Clinton could use the Human Rights Council to firm up consensus as diplomats work on the Security Council, where veto-wielding permanent members Russia and China have often resisted moves to intervene in countries' internal affairs.

"The U.N. Security Council is a very risky proposition if, for example, the Chinese were not in favor of voting a resolution, and I don't think the administration feels confident that it has all of those ducks lined up," he said.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)

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