- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2007

PARIS — Riding the crest of its success in helping free six Bulgarian medical workers from a Libyan prison, France moved yesterday to secure a strong economic base in Libya.

President Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner traveled to Tripoli to personally outline their plans to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Officials of the two countries signed agreements on a military-industrial partnership, a nuclear energy project and cooperation in scientific research and education, officials said.

Mr. Sarkozy, who met with Col. Gadhafi in a tent in the compound of his Tripoli residence, has said he wants to help Libya return to the “concert of nations” after it released to Bulgaria the medics convicted of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV. Bulgaria immediately pardoned all six.

“I am happy to be in your country to talk about the future,” Mr. Sarkozy wrote in a book at Col. Gadhafi’s residence, Reuters news agency reported from Tripoli.

Col. Gadhafi, wearing sunglasses, a white suit topped by a beige shawl and a pendant in the shape of Africa, showed Mr. Sarkozy around the wreckage of a building he once used as his home in the sprawling compound in central Tripoli.

The overall objective of the trip, official sources and French commentators said, was to benefit from oil supplies and to improve Libya’s infrastructure while Tripoli appears to be reaching out to the West.

Underpinning such moves, some sources said, is a desire to keep Libya within the European — and particularly French — orbit and avoid its becoming a satellite of the United States.

Mr. Sarkozy, whose wife, Cecilia, acted as an unofficial envoy and escorted the medics to freedom on a French presidential plane, is thus confirming himself as a president in the “Gaullist tradition” despite the opposition’s campaign slogans describing him as “America’s puppet.”

His talks with the Libyan leadership coincided with the acquisition of the Libyan Bank of the Sahara by a French consortium. The move was interpreted as a sign of a growing French role in the privatization of Libya’s state-controlled economy.

The economic stakes involved in the Libyan venture are significant. French observers say Libya “needs everything” — roads, trains, aircraft, harbor installations — and has money to pay from its inflated oil income.

An aide to Mr. Sarkozy said officials signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation on a nuclear energy project.

“The objective is to cooperate so as to work on the installation in Libya of a nuclear reactor to supply drinking water from desalinated seawater,” Claude Gueant, the secretary-general at the French presidential palace, told reporters.

In Washington, a Bush administration official said the United States did not object to the accord at first glance.

“As long as it does not involve a dangerous part of the fuel cycle we don’t have a problem,” he added.

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