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Rice meets Gaddafi in historic visit

Latest update : 2008-09-06

In the first visit by a top US diplomat since 1953, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has met former arch-foe Muammar Gaddafi in Libya only a month after the two countries reached an accord to compensate the victims of mutual attacks.

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice arrived Friday in Libya for a historic meeting with Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Rice is the first US secretary of state to visit Tripoli in more than 55 years, and she told reporters travelling with her to Tripoli, that her trip was proof that Washington had no "permanent enemies," Reuters reported.

Washington suspended talks with Tripoli in 1981 after putting Gaddafi's government on its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

"It demonstrates that when countries are prepared to make strategic changes in direction, the United States is prepared to respond," Rice said of her trip there. "Quite frankly I never thought I would be visiting Libya and so it is quite something.
"This trip is acknowledging how far the U.S.-Libyan  relationship has come, but it is the beginning and not the end of the story."

A state department regional spokesman, Michael Pelletier, said in an interview with France 24 that the talks between Rice and Gaddafi would not only improve relations between the two countries but also promote cooperation on a range of issues.

“We’re talking about increased cooperation in many fields – in education, in trade, in investment, et cetera,” Pelletier said. “We’re talking co-operation in terms of fighting terrorism in the region… on issues such as Darfur and Chad.”

Rice, who stopped in Tripoli for a few hours during her North African tour, meanwhile will hold talks with Libya's Foreign Minister Abdelrahman Mohammed Shalgam and will later meet Gaddafi over an Iftar meal - marking the end of the day's Ramadan fast.

"I look forward to listening to the leader's world view," Agence France-Presse quoted Rice saying of the mercurial Libyan leader, head of the government of this north African nation for almost four decades.

Four months before the Bush administration ends its term at the White House, Washington is looking for a thaw in diplomatic ties with Libya, a major oil producer isolated by the international community.

Diplomatic links were restored between the two countries in 2004; a year after Libya dismantled its weapons of mass destruction programme. In return, Washington lifted sanctions against Tripoli.

Libya is making a gradual comeback to the international scene after it was finally taken off the US list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2006.

Message to Tehran and Pyongyang

Rice's visit comes after US and Tripoli signed an accord on Aug. 14 to compensate families of the 270 victims of the Lockerbie bombing. The agreement also covered victims of US air strikes on Tripoli and Benghazi on April 16, 1986, in which 41 people were killed, including an adopted daughter of the Libyan leader. The establishment of this humanitarian fund, said Michael Pelletier, addressed a key diplomatic sticking point and fund went “a long way” to getting “just and rapid compensation” to the victims, allowing the US and Libya to “focus on the future of [their] relationship.”

“The whole business of the conflict between Libya and the United States has been closed once and for all," Gaddafi said this week in a speech marking the 39th anniversary of the overthrow of the Western-backed monarchy. "There will be no more wars, raids or acts of terrorism," said Gaddafi. "All we want is to be left alone," the Libyan leader added.

US diplomats and observers say Rice’s visit to Libya is a clear message to Iran and North Korea that they too could develop better ties with the West by abandoning their nuclear weapons programme.

"Libya is an example that, if countries make a different set of choices than they are currently making, 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," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack announced ahead of Rice's tour.

After her meeting with Gaddafi, Rice is set to visit Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco before returning to Washington on Sept. 7.

Date created : 2008-09-05