LONDON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama on Wednesday admitted the “inherent limitations” of NATO’s strategy of using air power but no ground troops in Libya, but said building pressure would still oust Moamer Kadhafi.
On the second day of a state visit to Britain, Obama also delivered his strongest warning yet to the Palestinians that their evolving plan to seek UN recognition was a “mistake.”
With Obama facing criticism in Europe over his decision to limit US forces to a support role in Libya, as his hosts Britain and France apply the muscle, the president nevertheless said the operation remained on track.
“Once you rule out ground forces, then there are going to be some inherent limitations to our air strike operations,” Obama said during an open-air news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
“It means that the opposition on the ground in Libya is going to have to carry out its responsibilities,” Obama said, while cautioning that he would not impose a timeline on the length of the NATO operation.
“Ultimately, this is going to be a slow, steady process in which we are able to wear down the regime forces and change the political calculations of the Kadhafi regime, where they realize they are not going to control this country.
“I believe that we have built enough momentum that as long as we sustain the course that we are on, that he is ultimately going to step down,” Obama said.
Cameron, one of the most vocal supporters of the foreign intervention to protect Libyan civilians, also called for patience, as both leaders kept perceived differences over the pace of operations out of the public eye.
“I so agree that the two key things here are patience and persistence. That is what the Alliance is demonstrating and needs to go on demonstrating,” Cameron said.
Obama also made his most explicit remarks yet on a possible Palestinian bid for recognition at the UN General Assembly in September, following a sharp intervention on the issue by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
“The only way we are going to see a Palestinian state is if Israelis and Palestinians agree on a just peace,” Obama said.
“I strongly believe for the Palestinians to take the United Nations route rather than the path of sitting down and talking with the Israelis is a mistake.”
Earlier, Abbas dug in on the UN issue, in the latest sign of acrimony in a week which has seen the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama at odds over the deadlocked US-brokered peace process.
“Our first choice is negotiations, but if there is no progress before September we will go to the United Nations,” Abbas said, after Netanyahu’s speech in the US Congress on Tuesday which augured little compromise.
Despite apparently dismal prospects for any negotiations, Obama also reiterated his claim that the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians would require the parties to make a “wrenching compromise.”
After talks at 10 Downing Street, and doling out sausages and burgers at a barbecue for wounded US and British combat veterans, Obama and Cameron travelled to a joint news conference in the US president’s armored car.
They said they had agreed a joint push for a “major programme of economic and political support” at the G8 summit starting in Deauville, France, on Thursday, for countries caught up in the whirlwind of political change sweeping across north Africa and the Arab world.
“The president and I are agreed we will stand with those who work for freedom,” Cameron said.
Later, Obama was set to deliver a rare speech by a foreign leader to the two houses of parliament in Westminster Hall, focusing on Europe, a continent where some players have been disappointed with his engagement so far amid a growing US focus on Asia.
“Our focus is on maintaining the role that the US and Europe play together as a catalyst for action,” said Ben Rhodes, a US deputy national security advisor.
“We believe that in the emerging context of the 21st century, not only is that as relevant as ever, but it’s going to demand contributions from all nations.”
Wrapping up his visit, the second stage of a European tour that also took in Ireland, and will stop in France and Poland, Obama will host a return dinner for Queen Elizabeth II, after she laid on a white-tie affair at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday.