White House spokesman Jay Carney today brushed aside press reports that the United States had asked Saudi Arabia to arm rebels in Libya so they could battle special forces troops loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

Carney said it wasn’t because the Obama administration didn’t want to arm the rebels, but because the U.S. had no clue who they were, what they really wanted, or what kind of power base they could call their own.

“On the issue of arming, providing weapons, it is one of the range of options that is being considered,” Carney said on Monday.

The idea of calling on the Saudis sounded alarm bells to former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Perle, who


flat out said it was “just an embarrassment” to hear Carney say the United States doesn’t know who are the rebels in Libya, especially since many rebel leaders used to hold senior positions in Gadhafi’s regime.

And he sent a strong word of caution against having Saudi Arabia do the United States’ bidding.

“If you don’t know who the rebels are, the last thing you want to do is to ask the Saudis to supply them,” he told Newsmax in an interview on Monday.

Perle was a strong backer of arming rebels in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and in Iraq in the late 1990s against Saddam Hussein

“That’s what we did in Afghanistan. They gave weapons to all their preferred clients, who were all Islamist fundamentalists. We should have been in there making those decisions.”

“This is an appalling substitute for a policy,” Perle said. “I think we ought to be helping the rebels so that we have some influence over who the rebels are and who among them prevails,” he said.

Today The Independent in Britain claimed that the United States had a “secret plan” to get the Saudis to airlift weapons to rebels in Benghazi, because it was “desperate” to avoid direct U.S. military involvement in a protracted civil war.

According to the report, the U.S. appealed directly to Saudi King Abdullah, who so far has “failed to respond to Washington’s highly classified request.”

A senior administration official asked by Newsmax if the report in The Independent was an authorized leak by the Obama White House, said that the report “simply isn’t true.”

Carney responded to repeated questions from reporters about the story by saying that the U.S. was considering all options: “When you talk about arming the rebels, we are pursuing a number of channels to have conversations and discussions with the opposition, groups and individuals.

“As we try to learn more about what they are pursuing, what they want it to be – also, believe, what we believe the Libyan people want, which is a government that is responsive to the Libyan people’s legitimate grievances and respects their rights – it would be premature to send a bunch of weapons to a post office box in eastern Libya.”

Carney added that at today’s meeting in Europe of the North Atlantic Council, the U.S. would be discussing three options with its NATO allies: the military aspects of providing humanitarian assistance to Libyans and others affected by the fighting; enforcing the United Nations arms embargo on the Gadhafi regime, and contingency planning for establishing a no-fly zone over Libyan air space.

“We have not removed any option from the table,” including the option of asking Saudi Arabia to provide military assistance to the rebels. “I would simply say that the option of [Saudi Arabia] providing military assistance is on the table because no options have been removed from the table.”

Perle warned that both Iran and Saudi Arabia were seeking to steer the revolt in Libya in a direction that would benefit them and not the United States. “We have a big stake in the outcome of this… If we are not there influencing the course of events in the rebel command structure, we should be,” he said.