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Analysis: US - Libya Now Friends

Gadhafi is no friend of Islamic fundamentalism, which he calls "political Islam." His own personal bodyguards, for example, includes several shapely women. Even so, the Libyan leadership itself is not entirely free of internal pressures in opening up to the West.

Washington (UPI) Oct 13, 2005
When U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Libya's Foreign Minister Abdul-Rahman Shalgem in New York last month it was the highest-level bi-lateral meeting between officials of the two countries in over 20 years. The encounter reflected what Washington characterizes as rapidly improving relations - and the Libyans not rapidly enough.

Until 2003 Washington branded Libya a rogue state. Then Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi surprised the world by reversing course and scrapping Libya's weapons of mass destruction program, and inviting inspectors in to supervise the dismantling of Libyan nuclear facilities.

The Bush administration welcomed the move, touting it as an example to other rogue states to join the political mainstream by following suit.

"Leaders who abandon the pursuit of chemical and nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them will find an open path to better relations with the United States and other nations," said President Bush at the time, as the United States began lifting sanctions that had been in force since 1986 because of Tripoli's alleged support for terrorism.

In addition, Libya has paid off the $2.7 billion settlement to relatives of the Lockerbie disaster victims. On Dec. 21, 1988, a PanAm Boeing 747 on route from London to New York blew up over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 259 passengers and crew and 11 townspeople. In 1991 the Libyan government handed over two nationals for trial in the Netherlands in connection with the bombing, and one was sentenced to prison.

Tripoli would like to see the pace of relations pick up, but U.S. sources said Thursday the Bush administration is still chary of showing what might be seen domestically as undue haste. When Ghanem hinted last month that he would like to be invited to Washington, the Bush administration's response was "not yet."

The Libyans are hoping the secretary of State will visit Tripoli next month, and even revealed a specific date to visiting European diplomats. But a State Department spokesman said Rice had no trip to Libya on her schedule. C. David Welch, the asst. secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs was more likely to journey to Libya first "to tie up some loose ends," paving the way for diplomatic ties.

The two countries have exchanged diplomatic missions, but not ambassadors. Earlier this year, State Department officials told a Congressional hearing that formal diplomatic relations with the Jamahariya, broken off by Washington in 1980, were likely to be re-established by the end of 2005.

In August, Sen. Robert Lugar, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee was in Tripoli on an official tour, and Gadhafi passed on an invitation to President George W. Bush to visit Libya. No reciprocal invitation has yet been made to the Libyan leader.

No major issues stand in the way, say the American sources (who asked not to be named), but the political decision has yet to be made to take the decisive step.

Meanwhile, the U.S. mission in Tripoli occupies three floors of the new Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, and Libya's representative in Washington has re-opened the Jamaharija's old embassy in the capital.

But American business has not "followed the flag" to Libya: it is there ahead of it. U.S. businessmen, particularly oil executives, fill the few Tripoli hotels. Mediterranean cruise ships have made Libya a port of call so that tourists can visit the sprawling archeological remains of the Roman city of Leptis Magna.

Libya is the eighth-largest oil producer in the 11-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries with proven crude reserves of 39 bn barrels. Earlier this month Exxon Mobil, the world's largest energy group, was the sole U.S. oil firm to win an area for oil exploration when Libya held its first auction since oil was discovered there in 1959. But U.S. groups Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, and Amerada Hess had also made successful bids in the earlier phase of the auction in January.

Gadhafi is no friend of Islamic fundamentalism, which he calls "political Islam." His own personal bodyguards, for example, includes several shapely women. Even so, the Libyan leadership itself is not entirely free of internal pressures in opening up to the West.

In an apparent move to balance its blandishments towards the United States, Libya has revived an annual "Day of Revenge" to mark the expulsion in 1970 of thousands of Italian nationals left over from colonial days. Rome has protested that Gadhafi had promised Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that the "Day of Revenge" would be changed to a "Day of Friendship," but it hasn't happened yet.

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Washington (UPI) Oct 12, 2005
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