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Obama says Libya campaign legal, making progress

U.S. President Obama gestures as he answers a question during a news conference in Washington
U.S. President Obama gestures as he answers a question during a news conference in Washington

By Andrew Quinn and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday strongly defended his decision to intervene in Libya, saying he consulted with Congress and operated within legal guidelines in approving a narrow, U.N.-mandated mission.

"We have carried out that narrow mission in exemplary fashion," Obama said in a televised news conference, complaining that congressional critics of the Libya campaign were using the issue for political gain.

"A lot of this fuss is politics," Obama said.

"We have engaged in a limited operation to help a lot of people against one of the worst tyrants in the world," he said, referring to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Obama's comments came after a week in which lawmakers have harshly criticized his Libya policies, and the House rebuffed him by refusing to authorize U.S. participation in the NATO-led mission.

Some have accused Obama of violating the 1973 War Powers Resolution by failing to get Congress' sign-off within the required 60 days after sending U.S. forces into hostilities.

Obama said the back and forth in Washington was sending the wrong signal to Gaddafi.

"We should be sending out a unified message to this guy that he should step down and give his people a fair chance to live their lives without fear," Obama said.

The House of Representatives defeated a move last week to curb U.S. intervention in Libya but also delivered a symbolic rebuke to Obama by defeating the measure that would have formally authorized U.S. operations in Libya.

A similar authorization measure passed a Senate committee this week but faces an uncertain future in the full Senate.

The White House argues that the Libya military operation and the limited U.S. role there do not constitute "hostilities" under the War Powers Resolution.

But Obama did not address reports that some of his administration's lawyers, at the Pentagon and Justice Department, dissented from that argument.

CONSULTATION

Obama said he had consulted fully with Congress before approving the mission in March but was not required to secure authorization.

"I think that such consultation is entirely appropriate. But do I think that our actions in any way violate the War Powers Resolution? The answer is no."

Both Democrats and Republicans have criticized the administration for not formally seeking Congress' authorization.

Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat and former Navy secretary, called "contorted" the administration's argument that the mission does not rise to the level of "hostilities" under U.S. law. Senator Bob Corker, a Republican, said the White House was trying to "have it both ways" by saying it supports the resolution while saying it did not apply to Libya.

Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said poor planning for what happens once the conflict in Libya concluded was a more pressing problem.

"The debate over the war powers act is a diversion from what really matters for American interests, which is the post-conflict environment in Libya," he said. "This is political point-scoring."

Obama stressed that the United States plays a supporting role in the Libya operation, underscoring that no U.S. troops had been dispatched to Libya, there have been no U.S. casualties, and that the operation remained limited in time and in scope.

He also said that Gaddafi was "pinned down and the noose is tightening around him."

"He needs to step down. He needs to go," Obama said.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Warren Strobel and Cynthia Osterman)

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