The US have not ruled out the controversial action of arming anti-Gaddafi rebels currently battling to overthrow their 41-year-ruling dictator.

In an interview US President Barack Obama said he did not rule out arming the rebels but then said he was also “not ruling it in.”

Many analysts believe such a move goes beyond the stated aim of the UN resolution which is to “protect civilians”.

But speaking at the Foreign Office in Britain, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, suggested that the UN resolution which mandated Allied airstrikes and the imposition of a no-fly zone also allowed the Allies to arm the rebels. “It is our interpretation that [UN Security Council resolution] 1973 amended or overrode the absolute prohibition on arms to anyone in Libya, so that there could be a legitimate transfer of arms if a country should choose to do that,” she said.

Obama defends military action in Libya

The UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, however was more cautious telling BBC Newsnight that Britain had no plans to provide arms to the rebels “in any form… at the moment”.

This backs up a statement  UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox made to the BBC earlier yesterday: “We’re not arming the rebels. We’re not planning to arm the rebels,” he said.

Pro-Gaddafi forces have been considerably weakened since Allied airstrikes began on March 19.

However they halted the rebels’ advance on Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte and drove them back from the newly recaptured town of Ben Jawad.

Gaddafi forces rebels to retreat

Delegates from nearly 40 countries met in London yesterday to discuss Libya’s future but failed to reach any consensus on the key issues such as the final aim of the military operation.