- Associated Press - Thursday, September 29, 2011

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Thursday that Libyans who met a team of visiting senators had expressed gratitude and want to repay the international community that rallied around Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s opponents and played a key role in the dictator’s defeat.

Mr. Graham, South Carolina Republican, traveled to Tripoli with three other GOP senators as part of the highest-profile American delegation since rebels, backed by NATO airstrikes that decimated Col. Gadhafi’s military forces, battled their way into the capital late last month and forced Col. Gadhafi into hiding.

“There is a desire here by the Libyan people to make sure that those who helped will get paid back,” Mr. Graham told journalists in the capital after he and the other senators — John McCain of Arizona, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Marco Rubio of Florida — toured Martyrs’ Square, formerly named Green Square, which was the site of frequent Gadhafi speeches.

The four U.S. lawmakers also met with the head of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, and other high-ranking officials of the group that now is governing Libya.

American companies are hoping to tap into the wealth of oil and natural resources in Libya, which under Col. Gadhafi long faced sanctions that prohibited much business.

“I think that American investors are more than eager to come invest here in Libya, and we hope and believe that they will be given an opportunity to do so,” Mr. McCain said.

He acknowledged, however, that it would be difficult for companies to get started until the country is completely secure. Gadhafi loyalists continue to put up a fierce resistance in three strongholds in central and southern Libya.

Mr. McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was thrilled to be in Tripoli. In April, he traveled to the then-opposition’s eastern stronghold of Benghazi, where he called the rebels “patriots” and “heroes.”

“I’ve dreamed of returning to a liberated capital of a free Libya ever since I visited Benghazi in April, and our visit to Tripoli today has been exhilarating and hopeful,” Mr. McCain said.

He called the Libyans an inspiration for people in other countries who are suffering under authoritarian regimes, singling out Iran, Syria, China and Russia, but he warned of a “rocky road” ahead amid concerns about the proliferation of weapons and the inability of the new leadership to form a government that could pave the way for elections.

“The people of Libya today are inspiring the people in Tehran, in Damascus, and even in Beijing and Moscow,” he said. “They continue to inspire the world and let people know that even the worst dictators can be overthrown and be replaced by freedom and democracy.”

He expressed confidence in the National Transitional Council, which is acting as Libya‘s government, and urged them to bring armed groups under the control of a central authority.

The four senators traveled from Malta, where they met with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi on Wednesday.

U.S. relations with Col. Gadhafi’s regime underwent a seismic shift in recent years after the longtime Libyan leader renounced weapons of mass destruction in 2003 and agreed to pay compensation to the families of victims of 1980s terror attacks, including the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, blamed on Libyan agents.

The senators talked to the country’s new rulers about the need for justice in the Lockerbie bombing, which killed 270 people, many of them Americans.

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