- Associated Press - Sunday, February 27, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration stands ready to offer “any type of assistance” to Libyans seeking to oust Moammar Gadhafi, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday, adding a warning to other African nations not to let mercenaries go to the aid of the longtime dictator.

Mrs. Clinton made no mention of any U.S. military assistance in her remarks to reporters before flying to Geneva for talks with diplomats from Russia, the European Union and other powers eager to present a united anti-Gadhafi front.

Shortly before she left, two senators urged the administration to help arm a provisional government in Libya, where Col. Gadhafi is in the midst of the desperate and increasingly violent bid to retain power.

Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut independent, also called for the United States and its allies to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent the military from again firing on civilian protesters from the air.

The White House had no immediate comment on their recommendations.

Mrs. Clinton spoke to reporters one day after President Obama branded Col. Gadhafi an illegitimate ruler who must leave power immediately.

“We want him to leave and we want him to end his regime and call off the mercenaries and those troops that remain loyal to him,” she said. “How he manages that is obviously up to him and to his family.”

The U.N. Security Council voted last Saturday to impose new penalties against the Gadhafi government, in power since 1969 in the oil-rich nation along Africa’s Mediterranean coast.

“We are just at the beginning of what will follow Gadhafi. … But we’ve been reaching out to many different Libyans who are attempting to organize in the east and as the revolution moves westward there as well,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I think it’s way too soon to tell how this is going to play out, but we’re going to be ready and prepared to offer any kind of assistance that anyone wishes to have from the United States.”

Efforts are under way to form a provisional government in the eastern part of the country, where the rebellion began at midmonth.

The United States, Mrs. Clinton said, is threatening more measures against Col. Gadhafi’s government but did not say what they were or when they might be announced.

Addressing the rulers of unnamed neighboring countries, she said: “You must stop mercenaries; you must stop those who may be going to Libya either at the behest or opportunistically to engage in violence or other criminal acts. And we will be working closely with those neighboring countries to ensure that they do so.”

The African fighters that Col. Gadhafi allegedly is using against protesters come from several nations.

Mrs. Clinton’s remarks did not go as far as those of Mr. McCain or Mr. Lieberman.

“Libyan pilots aren’t going to fly if there is a no-fly zone, and we could get air assets there to ensure it,” Mr. McCain said. But he added, “I’m not ready to use ground forces or further intervention than that.”

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