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Question of the Day
A former U.S. diplomat advised the crumbling regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi on how to counter its critics, according to documents found after rebels gained access to the regime's intelligence ministry in Tripoli.
Other documents show that an anti-war congressman was in touch with an intermediary from Col. Gadhafi's regime and asked him for politically usable dirt on the Libyan rebels.
The first set of documents purports to be notes of an Aug. 2 meeting between David Welch, a career U.S. diplomat who negotiated the normalization of ties between the United States and Libya during the George W. Bush administration, and two senior regime officials, Abubakr Alzleitny and Mohammed Ahmed Ismail.
The English-language version of the Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera first reported the notes of that meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo.
The notes show Mr. Welch recommended that the regime funnel any intelligence linking the rebels' National Transitional Council and al Qaeda to the United States through contacts in Moroccan, Jordanian or Israeli intelligence. The recommendation was part of public relations advice Mr. Welch purportedly gave the regime, according to the documents.
Mr. Welch also urged the Libyan officials to highlight the double standard of the Western nations attacking his regime while Syria escapes intervention.
While the documents say Mr. Welch suggested that Col. Gadhafi step down as leader of his country, according to Al-Jazeera, the notes of the meeting also say Mr. Welch suggested that the Libyan dictator still could retain some power.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Wednesday said the department is aware of the report. "David Welch, former assistant secretary, is now a private citizen," she said. "This was a private trip. He was not carrying any messages from the U.S. government."
Mr. Welch took a job as a senior vice president for Bechtel Corp. covering the Middle East and North Africa after leaving government in 2009. Neither Mr. Welch nor spokesmen for Bechtel returned phone calls and emails seeking comment.
Bechtel owns 40 percent of Power Generation Engineering and Services Co., a joint venture with the Egyptian Ministry of Electricity that had a contract with the Gadhafi regime to build and design power plants in and around Tripoli, the Libyan capital.
Before joining Bechtel, Mr. Welch was assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs and negotiated the normalization of ties with Libya. The U.S. restored diplomatic ties with Libya after Col. Gadhafi gave up his nuclear weapons program and provided the United States and Britain with intelligence on A.Q. Khan, a Pakistani engineer who provided nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.
Another document found by Al-Jazeera inside the personal office of Abdullah al-Senussi, Libya's intelligence chief, was a memo addressed to Col. Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam, describing a conversation between an intermediary for the son and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat and outspoken critic of the military intervention in Libya since it was launched in March.
That document, according to Al-Jazeera, said Mr. Kucinich was asking for information aimed at discrediting the Libyan opposition, such as evidence of corruption and links to al Qaeda. The information requested by Mr. Kucinich, according to the report, was aimed at improving the Libyan regime's image, defending Saif al-Islam from charges against him in the International Criminal Court, and building a case against NATO and the U.S. government in a court challenge to the war.
Mr. Kucinich issued a statement Wednesday on the report. "Al Jazeera found a document written by a Libyan bureaucrat to other Libyan bureaucrats," he said. "All it proves is that the Libyans were reading the Washington Post, and read there about my efforts to stop the war. I can't help what the Libyans put in their files."
He added: "My opposition to the war in Libya, even before it formally started, was public and well known. My questions about the legitimacy of the war, who the opposition was, and what NATO was doing, were also well known and consistent with my official duties. Any implication I was doing anything other than trying to bring an end to an unauthorized war is fiction."
Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said limited contacts between former senior U.S. officials and members of Col. Gadhafi's regime are not inappropriate.
"I have absolutely no problem with a former American official advising Gadhafi, so long as he was advising him to not massacre prisoners as he did shortly after this purported meeting took place," Mr. Malinowski said.
"For all I know, that was 90 percent of what they talked about. Anything beyond that sort of thing, though, I don't think would be appropriate."
David Mack, a former senior U.S. diplomat who specialized in the Arab world, said: "It's very normal for Libyans who knew David Welch when he was assistant secretary, and that includes Libyans with the National Transitional Council, to have reached out to Welch and for him to say he has received the message."
Mr. Mack said having a meeting does not mean Mr. Welch would have said everything he is purported to have said according to the notes disclosed by Al-Jazeera.
Mr. Malinowski said he was hopeful about one element of the Al-Jazeera story. "The one good thing about this story is that the reporter said a guard tried to stop him when he was trying to leave the building with these documents," he said. "The documents in that ministry are important historical records of the Gadhafi regime that will be needed for any future truth telling and justice process."
The United States began normalizing ties with Libya in 2004 when President Bush lifted many U.S. sanctions against Libya by executive order. However, the first U.S. ambassador to Tripoli since 1972 was not sent until the end of 2008 after Col. Gadhafi paid $1.5 billion to the victims of terrorism his regime had once sponsored.
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