TUNIS Talks are underway about Arab nations possibly taking part directly in any international military action against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday.
Clinton's comment appeared to be the most direct suggestion by a top U.S. official that Washington wants Arab nations to play an active role in such an operation, a step U.S. officials hope will insulate them from potential criticism.
Engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has been hesitant to back a no-fly zone without authorization from the U.N. Security Council and unambiguous Arab support.
Speaking to reporters on a visit to Tunisia, Clinton also said the international community "is debating how best to prevent Gaddafi from overrunning the opposition and killing many more innocent people."
Libyan troops pushed forward toward the insurgent stronghold of Benghazi on Thursday and launched air raids on its outskirts as momentum gathered in support of air raids to stop Gaddafi's forces.
The United States hoped the U.N. Security Council would pass a resolution later on Thursday that included, but was not limited to, the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, raising the prospect of bombing raids.
Asked if Arab nations would have to take part by providing pilots or by bombing or otherwise being directly involved in carrying out any eventual military operation against Gaddafi, Clinton replied: "That is also being discussed."
Speaking on a Tunisian television program, Clinton said if Gaddafi -- whom the United States long branded a terrorist and held responsible for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and other violent acts -- stayed in power, everyone would suffer.
"Tunisia knows very well that if Gaddafi does not go, he will most likely cause trouble for you, for Egypt and for everybody else," she said. "That is just his nature. You know, there are some creatures that are like that."
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)