SIRTE, Libya — In a turnabout from 35 years of hostility to the West, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi told delegates at the opening of the Libyan People’s National Congress in this seaside resort town Tuesday that his government had renounced terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and declared that “a new era has started” of openness and cooperation with the United States.
In an address to the nation’s top elected leaders as well as seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Libyan leader gave the first detailed public account of the reasons behind his surprise announcement on Dec. 19 that Tripoli was prepared to abandon its hitherto secret nuclear-weapons program.
He also detailed Libya’s extensive support for insurgencies, including the Irish Republican Army, South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO) and the African National Congress, while pledging an end to that era.
“We have guests from countries that have launched wars against us, and this pleases us,” said Col. Gadhafi, in a nod to the U.S. congressman who had addressed the gathering just minutes before the Libyan leader appeared. “We are grateful to them for coming, but now the Libyan people shall hear the meaning of this.”
Col. Gadhafi spent close to 90 minutes telling his story to the People’s Congress, many of whom later said they heard the details for the first time.
“There were stories in the press and rumors that Libya might have a secret nuclear program,” Prime Minister Shokri Ghanem told UPI after the speech, “but no one really knew for sure.”
And although “people knew officially that we supported liberation movements” in the past, no Libyan government official had come out with such a frank account as Col. Gadhafi had.
“No one separated Libya from the world community,” Col. Gadhafi insisted. “Libya voluntarily separated itself from others” by its actions.
“No one has imposed sanctions on us or punished us. We have punished ourselves.” The irony, Col. Gadhafi stated repeatedly, was “all these things were done for the sake of others.”
In a brutally self-critical account of Libya’s past support for radical movements worldwide, Col. Gadhafi concluded that the country had paid a high price for its adventures.
“Libya helped African nations” as they were breaking away from former colonial powers, “and we made other countries view Libya as an enemy.”
Libya helped the Palestinians, and now “the Palestinian president enters the White House. And we tell [Yasser] Arafat we oppose America because of you? How can [Arafat] enter the White House and we not improve our relations with the United States?”
Because of the changing circumstances in the world, where former enemies have become partners, if not friends, Col. Gadhafi said, “we decided to review our decisions, and concluded that we had isolated ourselves from the rest of the world.”
“If the Palestinians can recognize Israel, how can we not recognize that country?” he asked. “We cannot be more Palestinian than the Palestinians themselves.” The liberation struggles that Libya had supported “are finished, the battle is finished … Now people are shaking hands. So should only we stay enemies?”