Washington Extra – Changing palette

March 17, 2011

Not so very long ago a no-fly zone over Libya seemed like an option on the outskirts of what the United States was considering in trying to pressure Muammar Gaddafi.

OBAMA/Since last night, apparently a no-fly zone might not be enough, and the United States is now pressing for air strikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery. What changed?

“It is not our feeling … that a no-fly zone is a snap-your-fingers, one-size-fits-all solution to a problem. And what we want is action on a variety of items that can improve the situation in Libya,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said, without agreeing with the premise that policy had shifted.

The hardening stance brought to mind the words from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last week that “the regime will prevail” eventually because Libyan rebels were outgunned. Words the administration quickly distanced itself from at the time.

Gaddafi had words of his own, warning the rebel stronghold of Benghazi that he would show no mercy. “We will come zenga, zenga. House by house, room by room.”

Changing colors at the White House marked St. Patrick’s Day, with the fountain on the South Lawn flowing green. President Barack Obama promised to visit Ireland in May and see from whence his ancestors came. In the Oval Office it was his great (times five) grandfather, while at the Capitol it was his great (times three) grandfather — Oh well, tough to keep track…

Here are our top stories from Washington…

U.S. pushing for air strikes, no-fly zone in Libya

The United States, in a sharp shift in tone, wants the United Nations to authorize not just a no-fly zone to aid Libyan rebels but also air strikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery, officials said. The move comes after an extended internal debate within the administration over how to stop Muammar Gaddafi’s battle to put down the rebellion. The Libyan opposition has appealed for immediate assistance to prevent the rebel capital of Benghazi from falling to forces loyal to Gaddafi, and the question facing President Obama and other world leaders was whether the action they planned to take would come in time.

For more of this story by Steve Holland and Susan Cornwell, read here.

Arab role in Libya intervention discussed-U.S.

Talks are underway about Arab nations possibly taking part directly in any international military action against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. Clinton’s comment appeared to be the most direct suggestion by a top U.S. official that Washington wants Arab nations to play an active role in such an operation, a step U.S. officials hope will insulate them from potential criticism.

For more of this story by Arshad Mohammed, read here.

Obama orders nuclear review, sees risk in Japan

President Barack Obama ordered a comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear facilities and said radiation from an earthquake-stricken power plant in Japan posed a “substantial risk” to people nearby. Obama expressed confidence that Japan would recover from the tsunami and nuclear crisis that have seemingly overwhelmed its government. He said the United States did not expect harmful radiation to reach its shores or territories and told Americans they did not need to take precautions other than staying informed.

For more of this story by Jeff Mason and Patricia Zengerle, read here.

U.S. readies to fly military families out of Japan

The Pentagon announced plans for a voluntary evacuation of military families from Japan‘s Honshu island amid growing anxiety about radiation leaking from a crippled nuclear power plant. A spokesman for U.S. forces in Japan estimated that around 20,000 dependents would be eligible. “Don’t panic,” Captain Eric Gardner, the commanding officer at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, about 150 miles from the Fukushima plant, said in a message for personnel.

For more of this story by Phil Stewart, read here.

Congress buys more time for budget dispute

The Congress bought itself more time to work out a much-delayed budget deal as the costs of the stalemate were increasingly felt across the globe. The Senate passed a sixth stopgap bill to keep the government running through April 8, more than six months after the fiscal year began. The two parties now have three weeks to resolve a $50 billion gap between their rival spending plans. While Republicans are eager to keep a campaign promise to scale back the size of government, Democrats worry that sharp cuts would imperil a shaky economic recovery.

For more of this story by Andy Sullivan, read here.

Clinton offers Tunisia support amid small protests

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to support Tunisia as it emerges from authoritarian rule, saying “the revolution is just the beginning” and that economic and political reform must follow. Wrapping up a visit to Egypt and Tunisia, Clinton cast the United States as a partner eager to help in the transition, although some Tunisians remain bitter at its long support for former dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

For more of this story by Arshad Mohammed and Silvia Aloisi, read here.

U.S. data point to brisk growth, bottoming inflation

Consumer prices increased at their fastest pace in more than 1-1/2 years in February as fresh data showed growth was accelerating, but underlying inflation pressures remained generally contained. Some economists expressed concern that the crisis in Japan could hurt U.S. growth, but they cautioned it was too soon to know for sure. Positive signs included claims for new unemployment benefits, which fell last week, and factory activity in the country’s Mid-Atlantic region, which expanded at its quickest rate in 27 years.

For more of this story by Lucia Mutikani, read here.

U.S. eyes Colombia labor deal in “near future”

The Obama administration hopes to reach a deal with Colombia to address concerns about anti-labor violence that have blocked approval of a bilateral free trade deal for more than four years, officials said. “We share the sense of urgency that we have heard from all of you,” Deputy Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro told the House of Representatives Ways and Means trade subcommittee. “We want to be in a position where we can advance this agreement. I am optimistic that we will get there and we will get there in the near future.”

For more of this story by Doug Palmer, read here.

What will dominate Obama’s Latin American trip?

President Barack Obama visits Latin America this week to try to boost U.S. influence in the region after two years of wrestling with a more pressing domestic agenda and two foreign wars. Obama wants to boost trade to a fast-growing region and help jobs back home, discuss energy security at a time of rising oil prices, and draw closer to advancing power Brazil to help support its goals in global forum like the G20 and IMF.

For more of this Q and A by Alister Bull, read here.

Senate panel to step up TARP oversight-chairman

A Senate committee will step up oversight of the government’s unpopular TARP bank bailout program now it is losing one of its watchdogs. The Senate Banking Committee will oversee the $700 billion TARP on an ongoing basis, committee chairman Tim Johnson told reporters after the panel held a hearing to examine the program.

For more of this story by Rachelle Younglai, read here.

Starving CFTC of funding puts billions at risk-Gensler

The chairman of the futures regulator told lawmakers he was sympathetic to their efforts to rein in spending, but warned it would be a mistake to withhold funding from the agency and could put billions of taxpayer dollars at risk. The CFTC is writing dozens of regulations to implement the Dodd-Frank law, which gives the agency oversight of the $600 trillion global swaps market. Most rules have not been finalized. Republicans have questioned funding boosts for regulatory agencies as they look to cut government spending and slow enforcement of Dodd-Frank by starving regulators of additional funds.

For more of this story by Christopher Doering and Charles Abbott, read here.

What we are blogging…

Obama celebrates Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day

President Barack Obama celebrated a small piece of his heritage this St. Patrick’s Day and announced he would visit Ireland, including the village of Moneygall, the homeland of his great-great-great-grandfather.

For more of Emily Stephenson’s post, read here.

From elsewhere…

St Patrick’s diet similar to today’s health foods

Saint Patrick probably ate fare similar to today’s pricey health foods such as cereal, fish and seaweed, according to a researcher who has studied the country’s 5th-century diet. Food historian Regina Sexton said records kept by monks showed that Patrick, who is credited with ridding Ireland of snakes and spreading the Christian message, most likely drew his sustenance from cereals and dairy produce such as sour milk, flavored curd mixtures and a variety of soft and hard cheeses. “It is safe to say that obesity was not a problem in those days, and that the fare was seasonal, wholesome and modest by today’s standards,” said Sexton of University College Cork.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (White House spokesman Jay Carney)

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