- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2006

The United States restored full diplomatic relations with Libya yesterday and prepared to remove it from the blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism, pointing to Tripoli’s improved behavior as an example that Iran and North Korea should follow.

In a sign that Venezuela may take Libya’s place on the list, the Bush administration also imposed a ban on arms sales to the oil-rich South American country, saying it had failed to cooperate on counterterrorism efforts.

“We will soon open an embassy in Tripoli,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. “In addition, the United States intends to remove Libya from the list of designated state sponsors of terrorism.”

The decision to normalize ties comes 2 years after Libya’s longtime leader, Moammar Gadhafi, renounced terrorism and gave up his country’s weapons of mass destruction programs.

Col. Gadhafi is thought to be preparing to hand over power to his Western-oriented eldest son, Saif al-eslam Gadhafi, who in a 2003 American television interview said Libya seeks a “more constructive and fruitful relationship” with the United States, including tourism, education and business links.

“Libya is an important model as nations around the world press for changes in behavior by the Iranian and North Korean regimes — changes that could be vital to international peace and security,” Miss Rice said.

“We urge the leadership of Iran and North Korea to make similar strategic decisions that would benefit their citizens.”

The United States broke diplomatic relations with Libya and placed it on the terrorism list in 1979. Ties deteriorated further because of Tripoli’s involvement in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 persons.

U.N. sanctions were imposed in 1992, and suspended, but not lifted, in 1999 after Libya handed two former officials to a Dutch court. In 2003, Libya accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie incident and agreed to pay more than $2 billion in compensation to the families of the victims. In return, Washington pushed the Security Council to lift all sanctions against Libya.

Some of those family members yesterday criticized the decision to end Libya’s isolation.

“It is a dangerous move, and now, they have rewarded the terrorists,” said Susan Cohen, whose 20-year-old daughter was killed in the attack. “The only reason they are doing this is oil,” wire services quoted her as saying.

U.S. officials rejected that suggestion, saying Tripoli would have stayed on the blacklist had it not changed its behavior.

“Libya is out of the terrorism business,” said David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.

Some analysts and intelligence officials have questioned Mr. Welch’s conviction, noting that Libyan officials were accused of trying to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in 2003, when he was still crown prince.

The United States ended a broad trade embargo and opened a liaison office in Tripoli in 2004, but yesterday’s decision removes all restrictions on American firms, including oil companies, seeking to do business in Libya.

“Libya will also be omitted from the annual certification of countries not cooperating fully with United States’ anti-terrorism efforts,” Miss Rice said.

Venezuela, however, will be added to that list, the State Department said.

“The not-fully-cooperating designation will end all commercial arms sales and retransfers to Venezuela,” it said.

“U.S. sales and licenses for the export of defense articles and services to Venezuela, including the retransfer of defense articles, will not be permitted,” the department said.

Coincidentally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is scheduled to visit Libya — a fellow member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries — this week.

Miss Rice said the normalized relations with Libya will “open the door” to discussions with the Gadhafi regime on President Bush’s democracy agenda.

But Libyan opposition leaders said closer U.S.-Libyan ties will hurt their efforts to secure basic freedoms.

“Col. Gadhafi will most certainly use this to tighten his hold on the Libyans who aspire for such simple things as freedom of expression and freedom to have a constitution,” Fayez Jibril of the opposition Libyan National Salvation Front told the Associated Press from exile from Egypt.

Bill Gertz contributed to this report.


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