- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 7, 2002

LONDON Britain yesterday sent its first ministerial mission to Libya in 18 years to try to sign up Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in the war against international terrorism.

Prime Minister Tony Blair sent Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien on a two-day trip to Tripoli for a meeting with the Libyan strongman, himself once the target of accusations from London and Washington that his regime trained and backed terrorists.

As he left for Tripoli, Mr. O'Brien told journalists his visit "comes after four years of critical engagement with Libya, an engagement that has produced results."

"My message for the Libyan leadership is that we want to see further progress on the outstanding issues between us on terrorism and on weapons of mass destruction," he said. "A Libya which cooperates fully with the international community, including on terrorism, is very much in our interests."

Diplomatic sources said the British minister also would discuss with Col. Gadhafi whether U.S.-led allied forces that included Britain would at some point carry out military strikes against Iraq to "take out" Baghdad's capability for producing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

The source indicated that Britain was mainly concerned with finding out how Col. Gadhafi might react to such an attack rather than having any hope of cooperation or participation in a military operation.

The Times newspaper in London said it had learned that Mr. O'Brien also will ask Col. Gadhafi to assist London and Washington by providing intelligence on terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.

Specifically, government sources said, the British minister will try to get Col. Gadhafi to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention.

"Libya has signed all 12 international terrorist conventions," Mr. O'Brien said. "We are looking for it to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention, as promised in 2001."

Five years ago, the United States accused Libya of using an underground plant to manufacture chemical weapons. Tripoli insisted the facility was a pharmaceutical plant, but work on the site ceased after Washington's complaints.

Other issues remaining and expected to come under discussion between Mr. O'Brien and Col. Gadhafi are those lingering from the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, which killed 270 persons.

Britain severed diplomatic ties with Tripoli in 1984 over the fatal shooting of police Officer Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London. Relations worsened two years later when the United States used British bases to carry out air strikes against Libya.

Diplomatic relations between London and Tripoli were restored in 1999 after Col. Gadhafi's government accepted responsibility and paid compensation for Officer Fletcher's death. Mr. O'Brien's mission yesterday was described by diplomatic observers as a "major breakthrough" in solidifying those ties.

Also in 1999, Mr. Gadhafi turned over two Libyan officials for trial in the Lockerbie bombing. Only one, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, was convicted, and Col. Gadhafi is expected to demand that Britain allow him to be transferred from a cell in Scotland to a prison in a Muslim country.

London is unlikely to agree to such a move. Meanwhile, that case continues to fuel other disagreements between the two nations, including Britain's demand that Libya accept full responsibility for Megrahi's terrorism, pay appropriate compensation and cooperate with investigations into the bombing.

Col. Gadhafi agreed to pay some compensation, but the details are still under negotiation. The Libyan leader has steadfastly rejected any notion that Libya should formally accept responsibility for Lockerbie.

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