March 20th, 2011
06:38 PM ET
RIO de JANEIRO, Brazil – President Obama and his national security team worked behind the scenes Sunday to try and shore up support within the Arab world for the military mission in Libya. Top White House aides reached out to officials of the Arab League to insist the bombing does not exceed the scope of the United Nations mandate, according to senior administration officials.
The senior officials described the Obama team's phone calls as making clear to the Arab League that bombing Moammar Gadhafi's air defenses falls within the U.N. Security Council resolution's scope of imposing a no-fly zone and taking "all necessary measures" to stop the dictator from attacking civilians in his own country.
"We don't believe this goes beyond the resolution," said one senior administration official in describing the White House's message to the Arab League.
The lobbying came after Arab League officials complained earlier Sunday that the bombing by the U.S. military and other allies inside Libya exceeded the scope of merely instituting a no-fly zone.
The senior officials noted Obama also personally called King Abdullah of Jordan as part of the effort to keep key Arab allies on board with the mission.
The Obama phone call was on top of calls that Vice President Joe Biden made Sunday to leaders in Algeria and Kuwait.
In a meeting with reporters in Brazil, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon also reinforced the President's message that the U.S. will only be in a lead role for "days not weeks." He said enforcement of the no-fly zone will be "coordinated by partners with NATO" planes and resources
Senior officials also say they believe the allied campaign is hitting Gadhafi's military hard. "We've essentially made substantial progress in wiping out his air defenses," said one senior official.
Donilon scoffed at the notion of Gadhafi claiming there is a cease-fire. "It isn't true or it was immediately violated," he said.
One official added that the White House is still confident that "later this week" the administration will be able to hand off much of the mission to allies, who will actually enforce the no-fly zone after the initial U.S. bombing clears the way for it.
Donilon also revealed the President will have a secure conference call on Monday morning to assess progress and "review the next steps" in military mission.