CIA: Gaddafi staying in power could undermine Arab Spring
CIA Director Leon Panetta, who is slated to become the next US secretary of defence, warned Thursday that if Libya's Moamer Gaddafi stays in power it could undermine the reformist movements in other Arab countries, DPA reported.
"I think it sends a terrible signal to the other countries," Panetta said, without elaborating, after being asked by a senator whether such a scenario "kills the Arab Spring?"
Panetta was appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee considering President Barack Obama's nominee to replace Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who is to retire June 30.
The massive uprisings that have swept through much of the Middle East and North Africa - known as the Arab Spring - began in January in Tunisia, then spread to Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Libya and other countries. The turmoil forced the longtime rulers of Tunisia and Egypt to step down. Gaddafi unleashed his military to squash the rebellion, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad did the same.
Panetta said the effectiveness of the NATO-led military effort in Libya, coupled with sanctions and gains by opposition rebels, has significantly weakened Gaddafi's regime. Continued pressure will eventually force Gaddafi out, he said.
"We have seen the regime weaken significantly. We have seen the opposition make gains, both in the east and the west," Panetta said. "There are some signs that if we continue the pressure - if we stick with it - that ultimately Gaddafi will step down."
Panetta's nomination must be confirmed by the Senate and is part of a broader reshuffling of Obama's national security team. General David Petraeus, the commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan, was tapped by Obama to replace Panetta at the Central Intelligence Agency.
If confirmed, Panetta, 72, will be coming in just as Obama is set to authorize a reduction of US forces from Afghanistan in July. Obama's top advisers have been in discussions about how many of the roughly 100,000 troops should be pulled out.
Gates has said the initial pullout could number between 3,000-5,000 soldiers. Others in the administration have reportedly pushed for a larger withdrawal following the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and as pressure mounts to cut costs as the US deals with a record deficit.
Panetta would not say how many troops he believes should be pulled out in July, but stood by the White House's plans to begin some reductions.
During the hearing, several senators praised Panetta for the CIA-led mission that resulted in the May 1 killing of bin Laden by US special forces at his hideout in Pakistan.