President Barack Obama pledged on Tuesday to increase diplomatic and political pressure on Muammar Qadhafi to compel the Libyan strongman to step down.

“Hopefully, he’s going to be getting the message soon,” the president said.

In separate network television interviews on Tuesday, the president said it’s too early to negotiate an exit for Col. Qadhafi. He also did not rule out providing military hardware to rebels seeking to depose Col. Qadhafi and his nearly 42—year—old regime.

“One of the questions that we want to answer is: Do we start getting to a stage where Qadhafi’s forces are sufficiently degraded, where it may not be necessary to arm opposition groups,” Mr. Obama said on NBC Nightly News.

He told CBS Evening News that Col. Qadhafi’s inner circle is beginning to recognize that “their days are numbered.” He said some may be negotiating to leave the regime. “But that information may not have filtered to Qadhafi yet,” he said,

On a day where forces loyal to Col. Qadhafi beat back rebels with tanks and rockets, Mr. Obama conceded on ABC that, “it’s conceivable that the process of actually getting Qadhafi to step down is not going to happen overnight. That it’s going to take a little bit of time.”

Mr. Obama added, “He’s been greatly weakened. His forces have been degraded. But what’s absolutely true is that if you measured his remaining capability to rebel or opposition capability then he’s still more powerful on the ground in Libya.”

On CBS, Mr. Obama acknowledged testimony on Tuesday by NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe that officials have seen “flickers” of possible al—Qaeda and Hezbollah involvement among the rebel forces.

But he said most of the opposition leaders that have dealt with U.S. officials “are professionals, lawyers, doctors, people who appear to be credible.”

Earlier on Tuesday, at the dedication of a new building for the U.S. delegation to the U.N, Mr. Obama said the nation’s conscience and its common interests “compel us to act” to protect civilian lives in Libya. He said the international military effort against Col. Qadhafi places the U.S. at the centre of the mission, “but not alone.”

In the shadow of the United Nations, the president said the international community is haunted by past failures to save innocent lives. He said force should not be the first option against a country like Libya. But if other measures are not sufficient, he called on nations to uphold international peace and security.

Mr. Obama’s comments on Libya came a day after he explained his decision to undertake a military mission in Libya during a nationally televised speech. Mr. Obama spoke on Tuesday during a whirlwind day in New York that included the dedication of the U.S. mission building, named after former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, a visit to a science and engineering fair, interviews with network anchors and two Harlem political appearances, including a fundraiser that netted $1.5 million for the Democratic National Committee.

Obama pushes for ‘collective effort’ in Libya

U.S. President Barack Obama has underlined the need for “collective” action in Libya where enforcement of the United Nations resolution, authorising the use of force, is now under NATO control.

“We believe that the world is more secure and the interests of the United States are best advanced, when we act collectively,” Mr. Obama said at the inauguration of the Ronald H Brown United States Mission to the U.N. building here.

“The burden of action should not always be America’s alone,” he told the audience. “So in Libya today we see a broad and growing coalition, including Arab partners.”

On February 26, the U.N. Security Council slapped sanctions on the Libyan regime including an arms embargo, an asset freeze and travel ban on Muammar Qadhafi and his loyalists, and a referral to the Hague-based International Criminal Court.

In March, the Security Council called for an immediate ceasefire, establishing a no-fly zone and authorised “all necessary measures” for protecting civilians in Libya.

India, China, Russia, Brazil and Germany had abstained from voting on the resolution.

Mr. Obama made a strong case for intervention to protect human rights and stop atrocities when other options had failed in the North African country.

“We believe that force should not be the first option,” Mr. Obama said. “We understand the costs and risks involved in the use of force.”

“What we’ve learned from bitter experience — from the wars that were not prevented, the innocent lives that were not saved — is that all that’s necessary for evil to triumph is that good people and responsible nations stand by and do nothing,” he added.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as well as representatives from more than 30 countries, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had on Tuesday attended a conference on Libya in London.

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