- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Libya has taken another step toward international respectability by concluding a pact of “strategic cooperation and political consultation” with France, according to diplomatic assessments.

However, after mutual congratulations by French President Jacques Chirac and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi during Mr. Chirac’s visit to Tripoli, Libya, last week, the French were cautious about economic advantages offered by Libya.

They preferred to stress Libya’s emergence “from the cold” after years of international isolation and forecast a growing role for France in helping Libya repair its tattered economy.

A commentary by the state-owned Radio France Internationale described Mr. Chirac’s Libyan visit as “a diplomatic strategy consisting of anticipating the course of history.”

In traveling to Libya, Mr. Chirac followed British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, all of whom visited earlier this year.

According to Western diplomats, the visits represent a concerted effort by Libya to encourage foreign investment in a country suffering from a 30 percent unemployment level and 17 percent inflation level.

“Changes [in Libya] are happening because Gadhafi recognizes that the economy is in a mess,” one Western envoy said. “The Libyans have an investment plan for $35 billion, of which 40 percent is to come from foreign sources. That forces liberalization and privatization.”

A French report released after Mr. Chirac’s visit described Libya as “a huge, fallow land. Its international isolation was long; it is a very centralized country, which lacks infrastructure and whose banking system is virtually nonexistent.”

Libya began its emergence from isolation by paying compensation to the families of victims of two plane bombings blamed on Libyan terrorists, one over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 and one over Africa in 1989.

Last December, Col. Gadhafi announced that Libya would abandon the acquisition or production of weapons of mass destruction, one of his earlier aims. And in October, the European Union ended its 12-year boycott of Libya and lifted its arms embargo.

France said it was willing to cooperate with Libya in a number of fields, including in the transfer of nuclear technology for peaceful use under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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