- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The United States might reopen its embassy in Libya by the end of the year, the latest sign of sharply improving ties with the regime of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, a senior State Department official said yesterday.

In testimony before the House International Relations Committee, acting Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William F. Burns said U.S.-Libyan ties have blossomed since Col. Gadhafi’s December 2003 decision to give up his country’s extensive chemical-, nuclear- and biological-weapons programs.

Nineteen U.S. diplomats now work in a liaison office in Tripoli, and the Bush administration has lifted travel bans, asset freezes and other sanctions targeting the regime. Mr. Burns said the State Department hopes in time to remove Libya from its list of official state sponsors of terrorism.

“If the spirit of partnership that we established in December 2003 continues, we anticipate reopening a U.S. Embassy this year,” he said in a prepared statement to the committee.

U.S. officials have already identified a site for a permanent embassy, which Mr. Burns said could open by late 2009.

Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, said Libya’s surprise decision to give up its weapons programs was a “direct result” of the U.S.-led campaign to oust Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

But he cautioned that Libya continued to pose problems for U.S. policy, citing its lack of political freedoms and its role in the suspected plot in 2003 to assassinate de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Abdullah.

“In our race to reward the Libyans for their good behavior on the weapons front, we must be mindful not to undermine our greatest and most challenging objective in the region: the promotion of democracy, respect for the rule of law and human rights,” Mr. Hyde said.

But the committee’s ranking Democrat, California Rep. Tom Lantos, said it was important that the United States respond to Col. Gadhafi’s concessions.

“We need to promote the ‘Libyan model’ as a model for U.S. relations with rogue proliferator states, like North Korea and Iran,” Mr. Lantos said. He said he was introducing a bill calling for even more benefits for Libya, including incentives for more U.S. investment and trade.

Mr. Burns said the U.S. government still has “significant concerns” about a number of Libyan policies, citing its human rights record, the Saudi assassination charges and outstanding compensation issues to victims of past Libyan terrorism attacks, including the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing.

The full House of Representatives yesterday delivered a sharp rejection to State Department hopes for another key Middle East embassy, approving an emergency defense spending bill that excludes about $658 million to begin construction of a proposed new embassy in Baghdad.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice lobbied for the funds, saying U.S. diplomats needed a secure facility in Iraq.

But lawmakers in both parties have questioned the huge price tag for the embassy — more than $1.2 billion — and the fact that the funds were included in a bill designed for unforeseen and emergency spending needs.

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