- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2004

TRIPOLI, Libya. — On Saturday, March 6, the United States and Britain scored a bloodless victory in Libya, when Libyan authorities allowed 500 tons of equipment from their previously secret nuclear weapons program to be loaded onto a U.S. ship in Tripoli harbor and sent to America.

By all accounts, Libya’s cooperation with the United States and Britain has been faultless. Officials I interviewed in Tripoli who had taken part in the exchanges had only praise for Libya’s openness. The secret plants where Libya had once been enriching uranium now stand empty, and the equipment has been destroyed or taken out of the country.

On Sunday, the U.S. and Britain began talks with the Libyan authorities on how we can help to retrain Libyan weapons scientists to fulfill more useful functions for their society.

So far, the Libyans have fulfilled all their obligations. They have acknowledged responsibility for the actions of their officials in the Pan Am 103 and UTA 772 terrorist bombings, and paid compensation to the families of the victims. They have completely dismantled their programs for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and invited the U.S., Britain, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to verify nothing remains.

Now it’s time to plot the next steps of the U.S.-Libyan relationship. Just as the Libyan government moved quickly once Col. Moammar Gadhafi decided to disarm on Dec. 19, so the United States should move quickly to extend a hand of friendship and cooperation to the Libyan people.

Already, the Department of Health and Human Services has sent a team of health-care professionals to Libya to assess how the U.S. can help the Libyans to improve their national health care system. After decades of socialism, which promised free health care to everyone, ordinary Libyans drive to neighboring Tunisia when they need advanced medical care, because Libyan hospitals and doctors are notoriously substandard.

Col. Gadhafi wants U.S. oil and gas companies to return to Libya, and so they should. But Libya also needs help revising foreign investment laws, and creating a legal system that protects not just the rights of foreigners who seek to contribute to Libya’s economy, but of ordinary Libyans who want to lead normal lives.

At present, the United States has six diplomats stationed in Tripoli, led by the State Department’s director of the Office of Egypt and North Africa, Greg Berry. While Mr. Berry and his small team are career diplomats and fully understand the historic opportunities now present in Libya, the United States needs a high-powered presence in Tripoli that sends a message to Col. Gadhafi that America accepts the new partnership he has offered and will stand side by side with the Libyan people as they seek to break the shackles of 35 years of self-imposed isolation.

The British government made an excellent decision 16 months ago when it chose Anthony Layden, a free-market economist with a strong private-sector background, as its ambassador to Tripoli. Mr. Layden spent two years advising the king of Morocco on how to make free market reforms in his country, and understands that transforming the economy is essential to bringing freedom to Libya’s people.

America needs an ambassador in Tripoli of similar stature. Ideally, such a candidate will be close to President Bush, have extensive private sector experience, while also understanding the importance of fundamental freedoms as the underpinnings of a free society — freedoms sorely lacking in today’s Libya.

The United States can and should become a partner with Libya, but not a partner of the corrupt system that has brought ruin to Libya over the last 35 years.

Col. Gadhafi has shown great vision and realism over the last two years, as he has gradually sought to move his country from pariah status and back into the community of nations. He needs to be encouraged to continue on this path through the benefits of trade with America, and the watchful eye of U.S. diplomats who will monitor human rights violations.

Now is the time for bold moves by America to cement this new relationship, which many in Libya believe can become a thriving economic engine for the development of North Africa and the southern half of the Mediterranean basin.

It is time to lift economic sanctions on trade with Libya, and to allow Libyan students to return to America. It is time to appoint a high-level ambassador with the personal panache and connections to show the Libyans that America is committed to making this relationship a success.

Col. Gadhafi has crossed his Rubicon. There is no going back to the old ways of terror and murderous weapons of mass destruction. The United States should now welcome him and help Libya become an ordinary nation, whose people can enjoy the fruits of freedoms we consider so ordinary here in America.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight magazine, and author of “The French Betrayal of America,” forthcoming from Crown Forum.

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