UNITED NATIONS - The United States said on Wednesday the UN Security Council should consider more than a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians as France pushed the panel to vote before Libyan rebels are defeated.

The remarks from US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice were the clearest statement from Washington so far that it will back a Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone over the North African state.

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"We are discussing very seriously and leading efforts in the Council around a range of actions that we believe could be effective in protecting civilians," Rice told reporters. "The US view is that we need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include but perhaps go beyond a no-fly zone."

Washington had reacted cautiously to Arab League and European calls for a no-fly zone over Libya, with some officials concerned it could be militarily ineffective or politically damaging. It has insisted Arab nations actively participate in any such zone over Libya.

French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters he was pressing the council to vote to authorize a no-fly zone on Thursday, but council diplomats said they were still haggling over the wording of a draft resolution and it was unclear if the text could be put to a vote so soon.

Rice said she too would like a vote on Thursday.

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"It's my hope that we may be in a position to vote a serious resolution as early as tomorrow," she said. "We are working very hard toward that end."

Diplomats told Reuters Washington, London and France supported the idea of the council authorizing military action such as airstrikes against forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to protect civilian areas.

The current draft would authorize Arab League members and others to take "all necessary measures" - code for military action - to enforce the no-fly zone and protect civilians.

Unanswered questions

The Russians, however, and other council members are resisting the proposals. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he had proposed a quick vote on a call for a cease-fire in Libya, but it lacked strong enough support on the council.

Rice said the Russian ceasefire proposal could be worked into the draft resolution on a no-fly zone and stepped up sanctions submitted by France, Britain and Lebanon.

The 15-nation Security Council met through the day behind closed doors to discuss a French-British-Lebanese draft resolution authorizing a no-fly zone to halt Libyan government air strikes on rebels but failed to come to an agreement.

Some council members, including veto powers Russia and China, Germany, India and others remained either undecided or expressed doubts about how a no-fly zone could be enforced and whether it would help at all.

Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said some of his questions about who would enforce a no-fly zone and how it would be implemented remained unanswered.

Libya's deputy UN envoy Ibrahim Dabbashi, whose denunciation of leader Muammar Gaddafi last month inspired dozens of similar defections by Tripoli's diplomats worldwide, said there was no time for delays as Gaddafi's forces continue to pummel rebel forces in the east.

"The international community has to act within the next 10 hours," said Dabbashi.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CBS television the Arab League's call last Saturday for a no-fly zone had caused a "sea change" in thinking.

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