- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

The United States yesterday lifted a 23-year-old ban on travel to Libya by U.S. citizens, allowing American companies to negotiate deals with Tripoli that would be implemented once Washington ends its trade embargo.

In a further goodwill gesture to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who announced in December that he had decided to give up his pursuit of illicit arms, the Bush administration said it would allow him to establish a diplomatic presence in Washington.

“Over the course of the last two months, Libya has taken significant steps in implementing its commitment to disclose and dismantle all weapons of mass destruction programs,” the White House said in a statement.

“American efforts with Libya since Dec. 19 have made our country safer and the world more peaceful,” it said.

The administration had planned to make the announcement on Tuesday but delayed those plans after Libyan Prime Minister Shokri Ghanem denied his country’s responsibility for the 1988 Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Libya was forced to retract the statement on Wednesday, clearing the way for Washington’s action.

President Bush already had said Libya’s decision to renounce its weapons programs would open the door to better relations with the United States and to its reintegration in the international community.

“Libya has permitted the elimination of critical materials related to its nuclear-weapons program and ballistic-missile capability,” the White House said.

“Libya’s disclosures have also shed light on the international network of proliferators, who are intent on subverting nonproliferation regimes, regardless of the consequences,” it said.

Although it warned that Tripoli needs to “do more” to rehabilitate itself completely and break away from its terrorist practices, the administration said its actions so far are “serious, credible and consistent” with Col. Gadhafi’s promise.

But Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, cautioned against assuming that “Libya is committed absolutely to a responsible course.”

“We cannot ignore its lack of democracy, its development of weapons of mass destruction, its record of support for terrorism and its past pursuit of destabilizing activities in North Africa and the Middle East,” he said.

Yesterday’s news was welcomed by American businesses that had stakes in Libya’s oil industry before the trade embargo was imposed.

“U.S. companies with pre-sanctions holdings in Libya will be authorized as of today to negotiate the terms of their re-entry into operations in Libya, subject to the requirement of a further U.S. approval for implementation of any agreements if sanctions have not otherwise been lifted,” the White House said.

It invited Libya to open an interest section in Washington — a much smaller version of an embassy. It also said it “will continue to augment” the U.S. interest section in Tripoli “to reflect the increasing depth of our bilateral relationship.”

“The administration commits to increasing contacts between Libyan and American societies and exploring cooperation in humanitarian projects,” it said.

This week, a delegation of U.S. medical specialists from the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Agency for International Development will travel to Tripoli for consultations on health care delivery and disease prevention.

“We have invited Libya to send an official delegation to the United States for discussions on future educational opportunities for Libyan students here in the United States,” the White House said.

But the new developments were criticized by families of the Lockerbie victims, who reacted angrily to Mr. Ghanem’s comments on Tuesday.

“For the Bush administration, Lockerbie is just an issue to get around. It is typical of the Libyans to say one thing one day and another the next,” Susan Cohen, who lost a daughter in the bombing, told Reuters news agency.

She accused the administration of trying to “whitewash” Lockerbie and of making Col. Gadhafi a hero.

When Tripoli retracted Mr. Ghanem’s statement on Wednesday, it cited its letter to the United Nations in August, in which it accepted “responsibility for the actions of its officials.”

“Libya’s retraction [on Wednesday] clarified that their statement of Aug. 15 still stands,” said Sean McCormack, spokesman for the National Security Council.

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