* U.S. appears to have less leverage with Libya
* Action against oil industry could hurt U.S. companies
* U.S. Embassy dependents urged to leave Libya
By Matt Spetalnick and Pedro Nicolaci da Costa
WASHINGTON, Feb 20 The United States on Sunday
issued its strongest condemnation yet of Libya's violent
crackdown on protesters, citing what it called credible reports
of hundreds of deaths and injuries and threatening to take "all
appropriate actions" in response.
The State Department said it had raised strong objections
with Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi's government about the "use
of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators" as the country
has gotten caught up in a wave of unrest shaking the Middle
East and North Africa.
With Washington stepping up pressure on Tripoli, one of
Gaddafi's sons, Saif al-Islam, said on state television that
his father would fight against the popular uprising to "the
last man standing." But he also promised a dialogue on reforms
and wage increases.
"We are analyzing the speech of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi to
see what possibilities it contains for meaningful reform," a
U.S. official said in Washington.
U.S. President Barack Obama's administration also signaledthat the Libyan government might face consequences if it did
not take heed of warnings to rein in its security forces and
respect its citizens' right to protest.
"We are considering all appropriate actions," the U.S.
official said, without specifying what kinds of measures might
be at Washington's disposal.
While denouncing the Libyan crackdown on demonstrators
demanding an end to Gaddafi's four-decade rule, U.S. officials
have stopped short of calling for a change of government in
The United States would appear to have far less leverage
with Gaddafi than it has exercised in recent week with close
U.S. allies like Egypt and Bahrain, where autocratic leaders
gave ground in the face of U.S. criticism over political
LIMITED U.S. OPTIONS
Gaddafi had been reviled by the West as a supporter of
militants and revolutionary movements, but in recent years he
has been trying to bring his oil-rich desert nation out of
He has left little doubt, however, of his disappointment
that the West has not embraced him more. The concessions he
made to end U.S. and United Nations sanctions included
renouncing banned weapons programs and handing over suspects in
the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie,
Washington's few options in response to Gaddafi's protest
crackdown might include reimposing some sanctions, possibly
even touching on Libya's oil industry. But such moves would
take time, would require a unified Western stand and could
also hurt U.S. oil companies' interests.
Some Libya watchers have said the chances of an
Egyptian-style nationwide revolt overthrowing Gaddafi was less
likely because of his popularity in parts of the country and
his ability to spread around Libya's oil wealth to smooth over
social and political problems.
Despite that, Washington was paying close attention to
fast-moving developments in Libya, where unrest spread to the
capital Tripoli after after scores of protesters were killed in
the east of the country.
Obama was being briefed regularly, and his administration
was seeking "clarification" from senior Libyan officials about
the actions of their security forces, the U.S. official said.
Gaddafi's son said earlier that the army stood behind his
father as a "leader of the battle in Tripoli" and would enforce
security at any price.
But Saif al-Islam also said the General People's Congress,
Libya's equivalent of a parliament, would convene on Monday to
discuss a "clear" reform agenda.
"The United States is gravely concerned with disturbing
reports and images coming out of Libya," State Department
spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
The State Department said U.S. Embassy dependents were
being encouraged to leave Libya and U.S. citizens were urged to
defer nonessential travel to the country.
Libya is a major energy producer with significant
investment from Britain's BP (BP.L), Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) of the
United States and Italy's ENI (ENI.MI) among others.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Jackie