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Condoleezza Rice set for landmark visit to Libya

Latest update : 2008-09-03

Condoleezza Rice's visit to Libya on Friday, the first by a US secretary of state in 50 years, marks a return to relations with Tripoli after their suspension in 1981 and signals US approval of Libya's pledge to abandon sensitive weapon programmes.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will mark one of the rare diplomatic successes of President George W. Bush with her first visit to Libya this week, less than four months before the end of Bush's eight-year White House tenure.
  
Eager to show Iran and North Korea how they could benefit from a rapprochement with Western nations, Rice's visit will send a clear message of the Bush administration's approval for Libya's commitment to abandon its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs.
  
On a trip that will also take her to Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Portugal over September 4-7, Rice will mark the reestablishment of relations with Tripoli after they were suspended in 1981, when the US called Libya a supporter of terrorism.
  
Rice, who will depart Thursday, will be the first US secretary of state to visit Libya in 55 years, marking the full renewal of relations between the long-estranged countries.
  
The last US secretary of state to visit Libya was John Foster Dulles, who met with Libya's ruler, King Idris Senussi, in 1953.
  
"The secretary's visit to Libya signifies a new chapter in US-Libya bilateral relations," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
  
"It's also an important milestone in marking the success of this administration's nonproliferation policy," McCormack said.
  
"Libya is an example that, if countries make a different set of choices than they are making currently, they can have a different kind of relationship with the United States and the rest of the world, that we will follow through on our commitments."
  
McCormack said that Rice will meet with Libya leader Colonel Moamer Khadhafi, who earlier this week hailed the end of his regime's long estrangement from the United States.
  
"The whole business of the conflict between Libya and the United States has been closed once and for all," Kadhafi said in the speech marking the 39th anniversary of his overthrow of the country's Western-backed monarchy.
  
"There will be no more wars, raids or acts of terrorism," said Kadhafi, whose support for a raft of anti-Western militant groups in the 1980s prompted then US president Ronald Reagan to describe him as a "mad dog."
  
Rice's visit comes less than a month after the two governments reached an agreement on a plan to compensate US victims of Libyan attacks and Libyan victims of US reprisals.
  
The deal notably focused on the families of the 270 victims of the 1988 bombing of a US airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland -- the deadliest attack blamed on Kadhafi's regime.
  
But it also covered victims of several US air strikes on Tripoli and Benghazi on April 16, 1986, in which 41 people were killed, including an adopted daughter of Kadhafi.
  
US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch credited several administrations, but mainly Bush's with the success of persuading Kadhafi to give up weapons of mass destruction and enter the compensation deals.
  
"This for the US, I would say, is a success in our foreign policy. And we believe it has been built over several administrations but particularly, in the most dramatic fashion, during this one," Welch said.
  
Kadhafi stressed on Monday that Libya was not looking for US friendship. "All we want is to be left alone," he said.
  
In 2006, the United States announced the normalization of ties, dropping Libya from a State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism and raising diplomatic relations to the level of ambassadors.
  
The compensation accord, signed August 14, was one of the final pieces of the diplomatic puzzle allowing the full normalization of relations.
  
Rice plans to discuss the war on terror and the conflicts in Chad and Sudan with the Libyan leader.
  
According to McCormack, too, despite the historic nature of her visit, she plans to raise the issue of human rights with him, including the case of dissident Fathi al-Jahmi, who has been held since 2004 for criticizing the Tripoli regime.
  
On Tuesday Human Rights Watch called on Rice to press Kadhafi's government "to release political prisoners, abolish laws that imprison peaceful critics, and end the use of torture."

Date created : 2008-09-03

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