WASHINGTON, (AFP) — The US House of Representatives on Thursday rejected cutting off funds for NATO-led operations in Libya but voted to forbid the Pentagon from arming, training, or advising the strife-torn nation’s rebels.
By a 225-201 margin, lawmakers debating an annual US Defense Department spending bill adopted an amendment restricting Washington’s ability to help fighters looking to overthrow longtime Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi.
The House was expected to vote Friday on approving the underlying bill, but the provision on Libya’s rebels could face stiff opposition in Senate, which must approve the legislation to send it to Obama to sign into law.
Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma introduced the measure at a time when many US lawmakers have expressed anger at President Barack Obama’s handling of the conflict, which is unpopular with the US public.
It forbids the Pentagon from providing “military equipment, military training or advice, or other support for military activities, to any group or individual, not part of a country’s armed forces, for the purpose of assisting that group or individual in carrying out military activities in or against Libya.”
“Congress has allowed the president to overreach in Libya,” Cole said in a statement after the vote, denouncing the US role in NATO-led, UN-mandated operations in Libya as an “ill-advised adventure.”
But Republican Senator John McCain, a strong backer of the rebels, denounced the vote as “deeply disturbing” and warned it “sends exactly the wrong message to Kadhafi and those fighting for freedom and democracy in Libya — especially since Kadhafi is clearly crumbling.”
Separately, the House rejected by a 119-229 margin an amendment by Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich stating simply: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used for the use of military force against Libya.”
The House also rejected other measures aimed at cutting off support for the NATO-led campaign by 176-249 and 162-265 margins, but approved one largely symbolic amendment challenging Obama’s handling of the conflict.
That measure, which passed 316-111, said none of the funds in the bill can be used in contravention of the 1973 War Powers Resolution that says a president cannot keep US forces in harm’s way without congressional consent.
But the Obama administration has said it does not believe that the law applies to US operations in Libya.
The votes came as Poland, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, said it had opened diplomatic ties with the rebel National Transitional Council, installing its ambassador in the eastern stronghold of Benghazi.
France said last week that it supplied light arms including rifles and rocket launchers to the rebels for “self-defense” in line with a UN resolution and that it informed NATO and the Security Council of its plan to do so.
Russia criticized the move while France’s NATO ally Britain had expressed reservations, and Paris said this week that the rebels no longer need weapons drops since they are getting more organized and can arrange to arm themselves.
Washington has not formally announced a decision on arming Libya’s rebels, but US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in March that doing so would be legitimate under UN Security Council resolutions.
UN Security Council Resolution 1970, passed in February, prohibited states from providing any kind of arms to Libya. Resolution 1973 in March authorized nations “to take all necessary measures” to help protect civilians.