WASHINGTON Two senior senators called on President Barack Obama to lead the way in imposing a no-fly zone over Libya and said Washington should use trade and investment to support what they called a full-scale revolution in the Arab World.
Senators John McCain, a Republican, and Joe Lieberman, an independent, just returned from a North Africa and Middle East tour and spoke with leaders emerging from the upheavals in Egypt and Tunisia. They also visited Israel and Jordan.
In a joint Reuters interview, both senators called for a no-fly zone over Libya. The Obama administration has been discussing with NATO allies the creation of such a zone and U.S. ships have moved closer to Libya.
"I believe that (Libyan leader Muammar) Gaddafi's days are numbered and we should do everything in our power to shorten the number of days so that we can relieve the misery of the people of Libya," McCain said.
Lieberman said Egyptians who led mass protests that forced out long-time U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak are watching what happens in Libya.
"And if Gaddafi should survive, it's a setback for them because they fear it will arouse some elements in their own country to try a more violent response to their revolution," he said.
Both senators met Gaddafi in 2009, after he had pledged to get rid of Libya's weapons of mass destruction. McCain said they discussed human rights with him.
"It was an unusual meeting. I don't know how much we gained from it. We didn't endorse him," Lieberman said.
TRADE AND INVESTMENT INSTEAD OF MILITARY AID
The two senators said that in addition to encouraging U.S. investment in the region, Washington should enact some trade preferences immediately to help the economies of the region by giving their goods duty-free treatment.
McCain said some of the $1.5 billion in military aid the United States has been giving Egypt for years should be converted to economic assistance.
"If we fail to meet the expectations of the people, which are very high, then it opens the door to extremists," he said.
But McCain also warned that Egyptian groups were "leery" of the United States making decisions for them.
"Basically what they (the Egyptians) said to us is, if we need your assistance, and we probably will, we'll tell you what kind of assistance that we need, you don't tell us what kind of assistance that we need."
The United States should lead the way in helping the region, Lieberman said, he said, but should work together with allies in the European Union and Asia, who all have an interest in a stable Arab world.
Both senators described the tumultuous events sweeping the area as a genuine revolution that serves as a repudiation of U.S. irritants Iran and al Qaeda.
"It's their revolution but we should try to help them succeed," said Lieberman.
McCain voiced fears that the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that wants an Islamic state in Egypt, would gain a foothold in Egyptian politics.
"I am concerned about the possibility that they could have an influence especially in Egypt that could lead to a more extreme form of government," he said.
Speaking about the way social media played a role, the two senators said Tunisian opposition leaders asked them if they could possibly get Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to visit.
"Because he was the most popular man in Tunisia," said McCain.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)