- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

TRIPOLI, Libya | Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice held a historic meeting with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi Friday, demonstrating that the United States “has no permanent enemies” and that Washington is willing to do business with rogue states that renounce terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The Libyan strongman looked stern as he received Miss Rice in an incense-filled reception room in the Bab Al-Azizya barracks in the Libyan capital. He did not shake hands but placed his hand on his heart in a traditional Arab greeting, lightly touched her arm and gestured for to sit down.

Col. Gadhafi wore a full-length white traditional Libyan robe, a scarf covered with symbols of the African continent, black patent leather shoes and a North African black woollen hat.

The tone of the meeting appeared to reflect a remark by the colonel earlier this week when he described the United States as “neither friend nor foe.”

It was the first visit to Libya by a U.S. Secretary of State since John Foster Dulles in 1953. Miss Rice was the highest-level American in Libya since then Vice President Richard Nixon came in 1957.At that time, Libya was ruled by a pro-Western monarch.

Col. Gadhafi took power in a 1969 coup and became an international pariah for supporting foreign groups that most other nations regarded as terrorist.

The Reagan administration bombed Libya in 1986, scoring a near miss on Col. Gadhafi’s tent in the Bab al-Azizya barracks, after a bombing at a disco in Berlin frequented by U.S. servicemen that killed three people and injured more than 200.

Multilateral sanctions followed the 1988 explosion of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, including 189 Americans.

Libya slowly began to emerge from pariah status afer surrending two suspects for trial — one of whom was eventually convicted — agreeing to pay compensation to relatives of the victims and announcing in 2003 that it was giving up a fledgling program to make nuclear weapons.

Libya remains an authoritarian and erratic country that abuses human rights.

“There is a long way to go,” Miss Rice told reporters accompanying her to Tripoli. “But I do believe that this demonstrates that the United States doesn’t have permanent enemies.”

The Rice visit culminates a long process of efforts to end the U.S. standoff with Libya, beginning in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

“Her visit finally seals a 10-year effort to bring Libya in from the cold,” said Robert Pelletreau, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs from 1994-97. “Many deserve credit for this positive development: the British Government which led the effort; several Libyan political figures, including Seif al Islam Gadhafi, who persuaded doubters at home; U.S. diplomats and congressional leaders who steered a careful course between premature acceptance and neocon bombast; and a few farsighted journalists, who traveled to Libya and began to penetrate the demon image of its leader and regime.”

Martin Indyk, who succeeded Mr. Pelletreau, said the diplomatic process that brought Miss Rice to Tripoli “vindicates those who argue for engagement with rogue states” but only worked because Col. Gadhafi “was serious about changing his behavior.”

However, Susan Cohen, whose daughter, Theodora, perished on Pan Am 103 and who would have been 40 years old next Wednesday Sept. 10, was outraged by the Rice visit. She noted that Seif al Islam, the colonel’s son, was quoted recently suggesting that Libya had only accepted responsibility for the bombing to get out from under sanctions.

“This is horrible,” Mrs. Cohen said. “She [Rice] is meeting with this dictator after these things have been said.”

Barbara Slavin in Washington contributed to this report.

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