- The Washington Times - Friday, December 19, 2003

Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi made his first serious offer to give up his weapons of mass destruction in March, just as the U.S.-led military coalition was preparing to strike Iraq.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters in Durham, England, yesterday that the Libyan leader first approached British officials as Libya was closing in on a deal to pay reparations to victims of the Libyan-backed 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland.

“Libya came to us in March following successful negotiations on Lockerbie to see if it could resolve its weapons of mass destruction issue in a similarly cooperative manner,” said Mr. Blair.

The concessions outlined yesterday by Mr. Blair and President Bush will almost certainly be seen as a triumph for the hard line taken by the U.S. administration on the issue of weapons of mass destruction and weapons proliferation.

Many of Mr. Bush’s conservative supporters have argued that one of the positive spin-offs of the Iraq war would be the effect it would have on other rogue regimes seeking nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Mr. Bush himself alluded to the tough U.S. line on Iraq and North Korea as a factor in Libya’s decision.

Col. Gadhafi, 61, the longest serving ruler in the Arab world, has made major concessions in recent years in a bid to end Tripoli’s international isolation and revive its inefficient, centrally planned economy.

Recent State Department surveys have noted that Libya has moved away from its past active support of terrorist groups, saying that the country was still designated a “state sponsor of terrorism” largely because the Lockerbie compensation dispute was unresolved.

Col. Gadhafi in June outlined an extensive economic reform program, including the privatization of the huge state oil monopoly.

“The Lockerbie sanctions have greatly weakened Gadhafi, and he appears to have come to the realization that his regime’s survival depends on rapprochement with Washington — not least because Libya is desperate for foreign investment,” according to an analysis in the new issue of Foreign Affairs.

In his White House statement, President Bush yesterday explicitly held out the prospect of U.S. aid and investment if Libya follows through on its weapons pledge and internal reforms.

U.S. energy firms, fearful of losing valuable markets to European competitors, have pressed for a fresh approach toward Libya, but the Bush administration has insisted that Tripoli had failed to come clean on its weapons of mass destruction programs.

John R. Bolton, the State Department’s point man on proliferation and missiles issues, in April told a U.S.-funded radio network broadcasting to the Arab world that Libya’s weapons programs remained “very, very troubling.”

“At the very time the government of Libya has been seeking to put the terrorist destruction of Pan Am 103 behind it, it’s nonetheless pursuing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and ballistic missile systems that would make it still a grave threat to its neighbors both in North Africa and across the Mediterranean Sea, and indeed worldwide possibly,” Mr. Bolton said.

Despite Libya’s public signals in recent months that it wanted a changed relationship, the comprehensive deal announced yesterday took many by surprise.

Algerian Ambassador Idriss Jazairy said yesterday that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell had discussed Libya extensively during a swing earlier this month through Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

The ambassador said the Libyan announcement was a “good development,” and could benefit U.S. multinational firms who faced imminent deadlines on existing leases to explore and develop Libyan oil fields.

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