WASHINGTON The United States has no plans at the moment to ship weapons to rebels seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as it seeks to identify leaders of fragmented opposition forces, U.S. officials say.
"We believe it's premature to make any decisions of that kind," Tommy Vietor, a national security spokesman for President Barack Obama, told Reuters.
Another official, who asked for anonymity, said U.S. intelligence and national security agencies believe opposition forces mobilized against Gaddafi do not have leaders right now with whom the United States or other outsiders could deal.
While Libyan rebels have shown an ability to organize effectively to confront Gaddafi, they are "not coalescing" yet into a coherent national movement, the official said.
Even if the U.S. government wanted to, there would be "no easy process for funneling assistance" to anti-Gaddafi elements, the official added.
Some experts on the region say any effort at present by the United States to arm Gaddafi's opponents would risk embroiling U.S. troops in another war on top of Iraq and Afghanistan while offering a propaganda bonanza to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other anti-U.S. militants.
The issue of possible U.S. military support -- including a "no-fly" zone over Libya -- was raised publicly over the weekend by Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent.
"We've got to recognize the opposition provisional government as the legitimate government of Libya and that we ought to give that government certainly humanitarian assistance and military arms," he told CNN.
"Not go in on the ground ourselves but give them the wherewithal to fight on behalf of the people of Libya against a really cruel dictator."
But other lawmakers, including Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed reservations.
A senior congressional aide said Senate leaders had quietly rejected a proposal by Lieberman and other senators to include a provision in a proposed resolution that would have welcomed the opposition as Libya's legitimate government.
Bruce Riedel, a former senior Middle East expert at the CIA who has advised Obama, said Pentagon officials are leery of even modest U.S. military involvement in Libya, including a no-fly zone.
"If that doesn't work, are you then going to send in the Marines?" he said.
Arming Libyan rebels would be the "height of foolishness," Riedel said, and could suck U.S. forces into another "Middle East war when we haven't finished with the two we have already got."
(Editing by John O'Callaghan and Mohammad Zargham)