- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2011

President Obama on Wednesday hit back against suggestions that the NATO operation in Libya has reached a stalemate, citing progress in the fight against Col. Moammar Gadhafi even as the embattled leader clings to power more than two months after the United States and its allies started enforcing a U.N.-authorized no-fly zone.

Speaking in London at a joint press conference alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron, Mr. Obama suggested it is only a matter of time before the longtime strongman is forced out under pressure of NATO airstrikes and the Libyan opposition.

“I believe that we have built enough momentum that as long as we sustain the course that we’re on, that he is ultimately going to step down,” Mr. Obama told reporters.

At the same time, the president avoided speculation as to how or when that might happen. “We have not put forward any artificial timeline,” he said.

The U.S. military directed the no-fly-zone operation initially, but Britain and France have shouldered the majority of the burden since enforcement was placed under NATO control. That load has prompted some calls in Britain for Washington to again step up involvement, particularly as Mr. Cameron’s government cuts defense spending in a bid to get huge national deficits under control.

Asked whether the coalition plans to escalate attacks on Libya, the two men avoided detailed predictions about the operation, but Mr. Obama insisted there can’t be a “letup.”

“I absolutely agree that, given the progress that has been made over the last several weeks, that Gadhafi and his regime need to understand that there will not be a letup in the pressure we are applying,” he said.

The two leaders stressed they are on the same page when it comes to allied forces on the ground, however — suggesting that ground operations would be reserved for the Libyan rebel groups battling Col. Gadhafi.

“Once you rule out ground forces, there are going to be some inherent limitations to airstrike operations,” Mr. Obama said. “It means that opposition on the ground in Libya are going to have to carry out its responsibilities.”

The president, in London as part of a six-day European visit, will address a joint session of the British Parliament later Wednesday.

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