In media interviews over the weekend, United States Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have hinted at uncertainty over the duration of Western nations’ involvement in the Libyan conflict.

When asked in an interview with CBS whether a lengthy military involvement implied the U.S. was again embarking on a regime-change project, Ms. Clinton said: “If we have learned anything over the past number of years, regime change is very complicated and can be very expensive and can take a long time. And so I think the key here was establishing a military mission that was achievable... on a limited period of time and it could be sustained.”

Yet, in the same interview, in response to a question on Pentagon reports that the no-fly zone imposed over Libyan airspace under a United Nations resolution would last three months or more, Mr. Gates said: “I don't think anybody has any idea.”

Ms. Clinton suggested there was also continuing uncertainty on whether the Western alliance would arm the rebels fighting Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi’s forces. Ms. Clinton said there had been no such decision, however, the U.S. was “in contact with the rebels” and she had met with one of the leaders.

However, Ms. Clinton added that should it be deemed necessary to arm the rebels, there was legal basis to do so under the U.N. mandate, because, “There is an arms embargo against the Qadhafi regime that was established in ... Resolution 1970, which applied to the entire country. In the follow-on resolution, 1973, there is an exception if countries or organisations were to choose to use that.”

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