President Obama said Tuesday it’s “just a matter of time” before Col. Moammar Gadhafi steps down after weathering more than two months of NATO airstrikes — even as the embattled leader vowed on Libyan state television to fight until his death.
Mr. Obama, speaking at a White House press conference alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, glossed over the NATO allies’ differences on the military operation — the German government abstained from voting on the U.N.-authorized no-fly zone and pulled its forces out of Libya only days after the operation began in March — focusing instead on the fact the two leaders agree on Col. Gadhafi’s fate.
“The chancellor and I have been clear: Gadhafi must step down and hand power to the Libyan people,” Mr. Obama told reporters in the East Room, arguing that the NATO coalition has made “significant” progress in keeping the regime’s forces at bay. “And I think it is just a matter of time before Gadhafi goes.”
While the president didn’t predict when that would happen, he said, “There is going to be a lot of work when Gadhafi does step down,” adding that he expects “full and robust” German support in assisting a post-Gadhafi Libya.
But Col. Gadhafi has made it clear he doesn’t plan to go willingly. In a defiant audio address Tuesday, he pledged to stay and fight in the state capital of Tripoli until he meets his death.
“We only have one choice: we will stay in our land dead or alive,” Col. Gadhafi said in the audio message, which was broadcast on state TV, according to media reports.
Like Mr. Obama, Ms. Merkel downplayed Germany’s caution over the no-fly-zone mission in Libya, saying it’s natural for there to be “differences of opinion in such a friendship.” She noted that Germany has taken on additional responsibilities in Afghanistan — something the two leaders argued allows other NATO allies like France and Britain to devote more military resources to the Libyan mission.
Later on Tuesday, the president and the first lady hosted the German chancellor at an open-air dinner in the White House Rose garden, where Mr. Obama marked the two leaders’ 10th meeting by awarding Mrs. Merkel the Presidential Medal of Freedom in front of more than 200 dinner guests.
At the joint press conference earlier, Ms. Merkel compared the challenges facing the countries involved in the “Arab Spring” to those that faced Germany after World War II. She said the U.S. and Europe have a responsibility to assist the nations undergoing rapid change much like the U.S. did with its Marshall Plan back in the postwar era.
Ms. Merkel also endorsed the president’s recent speech that addressed the Middle East peace process, saying she supports Mr. Obama’s argument that Palestinians should avoid taking “unilateral” actions such as seeking a recognition of statehood at the U.N. General Assembly this fall.
The two are also on the same page when it comes to Iran ignoring global nuclear inspectors.
“We agreed that if the International Atomic Energy Agency this week determines again that Iran is continuing to ignore its international obligations, then we will have no choice but to consider additional steps, including potentially additional sanctions, to intensify the pressure on the Iranian regime,” Mr. Obama said.
On the economic front, the leaders promised to continue their consultations about the European debt crisis, with Mr. Obama acknowledging the politics surrounding Greece’s new request for a bailout package from the European Union and International Monetary Fund are going to be “tough.” Most of Greece’s government debt is held by German lenders.