By Alister Bull and Andrew Quinn
BRASILIA/PARIS (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said U.S. forces were poised for action in Libya, but made clear Washington was determined to play a supporting role in military action there.
As French warplanes began operations over Libya to stop Muammar Gaddafi's attacks on rebels, Obama said military forces would act quickly to shield civilians from the fighting.
"The international community demanded an immediate ceasefire in Libya, including an end to all attacks against civilians," Obama said during an appearance in Brasilia with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
"Our consensus was strong and our resolve is clear. The people of Libya must be protected and in the absence of an immediate end to the violence against civilians, our coalition is prepared to act, and act with urgency," he said,
Before leaving on a five-day Latin American tour, Obama said the United States would work with international partners to enforce U.N. demands for a ceasefire, but no American ground troops would be deployed in the oil-producing North African country.
The United States is already enmeshed in long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and there is little appetite in Congress and among the public for another expensive military intervention. U.S. officials have said repeatedly that it is time for Gaddafi to leave, but lately have stressed that the goal of military action in Libya was different.
"It is to protect civilians and it is to provide access for humanitarian assistance," Clinton said in Paris, where she attended a conference called by French President Sarkozy to discuss the international response to the Libya crisis.
"Further delays will only put more civilians at risk," Clinton said at a news conference.
France and Britain have taken the lead role in pushing for international intervention in Libya. And Clinton said Washington viewed Arab countries, particularly those in the Gulf, as essential to the campaign's success.
"We did not lead this. We did not engage in unilateral actions in any way, but we strongly support the international community taking action against governments and leaders who believe as Gaddafi is unfortunately doing so now," Clinton said.
The U.S. shift toward a tougher stance in favor of military action followed only after an extended internal debate within the Obama administration over how to stop Gaddafi from routing rebels fighting to end his four-decade rule.
Clinton listed several reasons why the United States should be involved in Libya, including the humanitarian desire to prevent civilian deaths and the need to ally with regional leaders at a time of sweeping change in the Arab world.
(Writing by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Doina Chiacu)