WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Friday urged Gulf nations to help calm the chaotic political situation in Libya, saying that outside military action would not be enough to help reduce tensions in the war-ravaged North African country.
After a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the White House, Obama said a political solution was needed in the oil-rich Mediterranean state, where two rival governments are fighting for control.
“We’re going to have to encourage some of the countries inside of the Gulf who have, I think, influence over the various factions inside of Libya to be more cooperative themselves,” Obama told reporters.
“In some cases, you’ve seen them fan the flames of military conflict, rather than try to reduce them.”
Obama is set to meet with leaders from Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Washington on May 13 and 14 to discuss a host of crises in the Middle East.
Obama noted Islamic State militants, who have taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq, have also been active in Libya. The United States is leading a coalition fighting the group in Iraq and Syria.
“We are consistently looking where terrorist threats might emanate, and Libya, obviously, is an area of great concern,” Obama said. He compared the situation to Somalia, where Washington has carried out drone strikes against suspected al Qaeda militants.
“We will not be able to solve the problem with just a few drone strikes or a few military operations,” he said, adding that he and Renzi did not discuss the possible sale of U.S. drones to Italy, which some Italian media reports had expected.
The United States, Italy and their allies must combine counterterrorism efforts with a push for a political resolution, Obama said.
“The answer ultimately is to have a government that can control its own borders and work with us. That’s going to take some time,” he said.
Renzi agreed it was up to the Libyans themselves. “Peace in Libya: either the tribes do this, or no one is going to do this,” he said.
Reporting by Susan Heavey and Roberta Rampton; Editing by David Storey and Andrew Hay