- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2008

Libya’s top diplomat swept through Washington’s power circles and social scene yesterday, declaring an end to confrontation with the United States, but he failed to address outstanding U.S. concerns about human rights and issues related to the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam, the highest-ranking Libyan official to visit Washington since 1972, made brief remarks emphasizing how far his country’s relationship with the United States had come since 2003.

“We don’t speak anymore about war or confrontation or terrorism. No, the contrary: wealth of the people, cooperation, investments, peace and stability,” he said after signing agreements on educational and technical exchanges at the State Department.

Four years ago, Libya took the first steps toward ending its international isolation by agreeing to scrap its illicit weapons programs.

“Before, we had a project for weapons of mass destruction. Now, we have weapons of mass construction,” he said without elaborating at a dinner in his honor at the Willard hotel, one of the capital’s oldest and most ornate.

U.S. and U.N. sanctions against Libya have been lifted since 2003, and American businesses have returned to the North African country. It has also been removed from the State Department’s blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism.

But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised in her meeting with Mr. Shalqam issues that are not yet resolved and are impediments to complete restoration of relations. One of them is the settlement with relatives of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103.

“Secretary Rice urged Libya to move forward in resolving outstanding claims by families of terror victims against the Libyan government and raised human rights as an important agenda item for our bilateral relationship,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Libya has agreed to pay the families of those who perished on Pan Am Flight 103 in December 1988 over Scotland $10 million per victim but has not made the final payment. Nor has it paid compensation for U.S. victims of the 1986 La Belle disco bombing in the former West Berlin.

The Libyans have made general statements that they are working on resolving those issues, and Mr. Shalqam did not offer anything more specific yesterday.

Congress has blocked full rapprochement with Libya by refusing funds for a new U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and holding up a confirmation hearing for a new American ambassador there.

A group of lawmakers — led by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, and Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut — is demanding that compensation be completed before the normalization is finalized.

“Libya has a responsibility to fulfill its commitments to American victims of its terror and has failed to do so,” Mr. Lautenberg said.

Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, criticized the Bush administration yesterday for “wining and dining the Libyan foreign minister” before the Pan Am case was fully settled.

“The Bush administration can do those American families that were victimized by state-sponsored terrorism a great favor by using diplomatic pressure to ensure that the Libyan government is held to account,” he said.

The Willard dinner was hosted by the Libyan Embassy in Washington, but Mr. Shalqam was introduced by David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs who has spent a lot of his time on improving relations with Libya.

The event’s informal headliner was former Sen. Bob Dole, Kansas Republican.

Mr. Shalqam spoke for about five minutes and took no questions from the audience. The Libyan ambassador to Washington, Ali Aujali, spent much more time profusely thanking various U.S. officials.

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