Biden: Libyans have rid country of dictator

October 23, 2011 - 11:50 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered cautious optimism about Libya's future Thursday following the death of Moammar Gadhafi.

Biden, speaking at an event in Plymouth, N.H., said the Libyan people had rid themselves of a dictator and have now "got a chance" with Gadhafi gone. Clinton spoke during a trip to Pakistan and said the developments represented a "new opportunity for Libya to move forward to the future."

Underscoring the Obama administration's careful handling of the news of Gadhafi's death, neither Biden nor Clinton would officially confirm that the longtime Libyan leader had been killed.

President Barack Obama was to make his first comments on Gadhafi's death during a Rose Garden appearance Thursday afternoon. A White House official said Obama would cite the fact that Libyan officials had announced Gadhafi's death. The U.S. has received similar reports through diplomatic channels and has confidence in those reports, the official said.

A U.S. official said Libya's Transitional National Council informed the United States of Gadhafi's death. Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril announced to his nation Thursday that the moment so many had waited for had come.

Gadhafi's death comes seven months after U.S. and NATO forces launched a bombing campaign in Libya to protect civilians from attacks by forces loyal to Gadhafi. While the U.S. initially took the lead in that campaign, it quickly stepped back to a secondary role to other NATO allies.

Biden applauded the U.S. decision to seek broad international backing for the Libya mission.

"In this case, America spent $2 billion total and didn't lose a single life. This is more of the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has been in the past," Biden said during a speech in Plymouth, N.H.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., hailed Gadhafi's death as "an end to the first phase of the Libyan revolution." The U.S. and Europe "must now deepen our support of the Libyan people," McCain, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., praised the Obama administration's involvement in Libya, saying the U.S. "demonstrated clear-eyed leadership, patience and foresight by pushing the international community into action."

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said Gadhafi's death represented an opportunity for Libya to make a peaceful and responsible transition to democracy.

"How things move forward in Libya will send critical signals to the rest of the region and the world," he said.

Even before Gadhafi's death, the U.S. moved swiftly to assist Libya's National Transitional Council, providing the rebel-led group with financial assistance. In July, the U.S., along with allies in Europe and the Middle East, recognized the NTC as Libya's official government. And last month, the U.S. ambassador to Libya returned to Tripoli to lead a newly reopened American Embassy in a post-Gadhafi era.

Clinton made a surprise trip earlier this week to Tripoli, where she said she hoped Gadhafi would be killed or captured. Clinton offered about $11 million in additional aid to Libya, boosting Washington's contribution since the uprising against Gadhafi began in February to roughly $135 million.

The new package includes medical aid for wounded fighters and additional assistance to secure weapons that many fear could fall into the hands of terrorists. Aides said the money is meant partly as a pledge of ongoing U.S. support during what will be a difficult passage to free elections and a new government after four decades of dictatorship.

Initial reports from fighters said Gadhafi had been holed up with the last of his fighters in a furious battle with revolutionary fighters assaulting the last few buildings his forces held in his Mediterranean coastal hometown of Sirte. At one point, a convoy tried to flee the area and was blasted by NATO airstrikes, though it was not clear if Gadhafi was in one of the vehicles.

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Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.