Sen. John McCain, who visited the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi on Friday, called for the United States and every other nation to recognize the rebels fighting against forces led by Col. Muammar Gaddafi and for responsible nations to arm them.

McCain is the most senior U.S. official to visit Libya since the conflict began, said Friday's visit was one of the most exciting and inspiring days of my life and applauded the rebel leadership for their remarkable progress in this struggle for liberation.

First, I would encourage every nation, especially the United States, to recognize the Transitional National Council as the legitimate voice of the Libyan people. They've earned this right, and Gaddafi has forfeited it by waging war on his own people, McCain said in a released statement.

Second, governments that have frozen assets of the Qaddafi regime should release some of that money to the Transitional National Council so that they can sustain, improve, and expand their capacity to govern justly, he added.

McCain also said NATO - which is in charge of protecting civilians in Libya from Col. Muammar Gaddafi's forces - should urgently step up the air campaign, especially in Misurata, the site of intense fighting in recent days.

He said more close air support in the form of A-10 and AC-130 jets were needed. He also applauded the recent use of Predator drone aircraft to help in the effort. U.S. defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday that the aircraft would allow for more precise airstrikes from low altitudes in populated areas.

McCain also called for nations to provide help to the TNC through command and control support, battlefield intelligence, training, and weapons.

I have met with these brave fighters, and they are not Al-Qaeda. To the contrary: They are Libyan patriots who want to liberate their nation. We should help them do it, he said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Friday that it wasn't up to U.S. to decide who should lead.

We think it's for the people of Libya to decide who the head of their country is, not for the United States to do that, Carney said.

However he said it was the U.S. position to put the squeeze on Gaddafi.

I think it's important to remember that Qaddafi's resources are limited.  And the arms embargo and the sanctions that have been put in place will, as each day goes by, make it harder and harder for him to function and for his regime to function, Carney said.

Also on Friday in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Jean Ping, the African Union Commission Chairperson, telling him that the U.S. appreciates the AU's public statements on Libya that urge a democratic process that can be inclusive and supportive of the needs of the Libyan people.

Ping met with White House National Security Advisor Denis McDonough on Wednesday.

McDonough stressed the importance of the AU, the Arab League, the UN and NATO working together to secure a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Libya, a White House statement said.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff told troops in Baghdad on Friday that the international consensus is that Gaddafi has got to go.

Globally, the guy is a pariah, and every single action the vast majority of countries are taking are going to continue to put the squeeze on him until he's gone. Is [Gaddafi] going to figure that out? I don't know, he said.

He said the military effort so far hard reduced Gaddafi's main ground force capabilities between 30 and 40 percent.

Meanwhile a delegation of Republican members of the House of Representatives led by Speaker John Boehner was in Mons, Belgium on Friday, receiving an update on Libyan operations from Admiral James Stavridis, the commander of the U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander of Europe from NATO.