- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2008

TRIPOLI, Libya | Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held a historic meeting with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on Friday, demonstrating that the United States has no “permanent enemies” and that Washington is willing to do business with rogue states that renounce terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The Libyan strongman looked stern as he received Miss Rice in an incense-filled reception room in the Bab al-Azizya barracks in the Libyan capital. He did not shake hands but placed his hand on his heart in a traditional Arab greeting, lightly touched her arm and gestured her to sit down.

Col. Gadhafi wore a full-length white traditional Libyan robe, a scarf covered with symbols of the African continent, black patent leather shoes and a North African black woolen hat.

He began the meeting by asking how Miss Rice was and “What’s the news about the hurricane?”

Miss Rice, beaming broadly, replied through an interpreter that, “The first one was less than feared, but there are two more.”

The Libyan leader, whom President Reagan once labeled a “mad dog,” later feted Miss Rice in a traditional Bedouin tent in the compound, which was bombed by the United States in 1986 in reprisal for what Washington said was Libya-sponsored terrorism.

Aides to Miss Rice left the barracks a short time after the meeting began, leaving the secretary and the colonel alone apart from their security details. Soldiers wearing red berets and carrying assault rifles patrolled the barracks accompanied by plainclothes officers from the colonel’s secret police.

The Rice visit was the first to Libya by an American secretary of state since John Foster Dulles in 1953. Miss Rice was the highest-level American in Libya since Vice President Richard Nixon came in 1957. At that time, Libya was ruled by a pro-Western monarch.

Col. Gadhafi took power in a 1969 coup and became an international pariah for supporting foreign groups that most other nations regarded as terrorist.

The Reagan administration’s air strikes on Libya in 1986 followed a bombing at a disco in Berlin frequented by U.S. servicemen that killed three people and injured more than 200.

Libya was also blamed for the 1988 explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, including 189 Americans.

Libya slowly began to emerge from multinational sanctions and pariah status after surrendering two suspects for trial - one of whom was eventually convicted - agreeing to pay compensation to relatives of the victims and announcing in 2003 that it was giving up a fledgling program to make nuclear weapons.

Libya remains an authoritarian and erratic country that is accused of abusing the human rights of its people.

“There is a long way to go,” Miss Rice told reporters accompanying her to Tripoli. “But I do believe that this demonstrates that the United States doesn’t have permanent enemies.”

“A lot has happened in the years since ‘57, which was when Nixon was here,” she said, “but the most important has been the change in Libya’s strategic direction. That is not to say that everything has been settled between Libya and the United States.”

The secretary said she would not skip sensitive issues in her talks and would demand that Libyan dissident Fathi al-Jahmi be released from solitary confinement for charges including unauthorized meetings with U.S. diplomats, a charge that is punishable in Libya by death.

“Of course it is disturbing, and I’ll raise it,” she said.

Asked whether more oil for the United States would be a major objective of improved ties with Libya, a major oil producer, she said, “It is helpful, but this a much broader relationship, it has much broader potential than just energy.”

The State Department has said that Libya and the United States also will sign a military cooperation agreement, although not during the Rice sojourn.

The Rice visit culminates a long process to end the U.S. standoff with Libya.

“Her visit finally seals a 10-year effort to bring Libya in from the cold,” said Robert Pelletreau, assistant secretary of state for near-eastern affairs from 1994 to 1997.

“Many deserve credit for this positive development: the British government, which led the effort; several Libyan political figures, including Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, who persuaded doubters at home; U.S. diplomats and congressional leaders who steered a careful course between premature acceptance and [neoconservative] bombast; and a few farsighted journalists who traveled to Libya and began to penetrate the demon image of its leader and regime.”

Martin Indyk, who succeeded Mr. Pelletreau, said the diplomatic process that brought Miss Rice to Tripoli “vindicates those who argue for engagement with rogue states” but only worked because Col. Gadhafi “was serious about changing his behavior.”

However, Susan Cohen, whose daughter, Theodora, perished on Pan Am 103 and who would have been 40 years old next Wednesday , said she was outraged by the Rice visit. She noted that Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the colonel’s son, was quoted recently suggesting that Libya had only accepted responsibility for the bombing to get out from under sanctions.

“This is horrible,” Mrs. Cohen said. “[Miss Rice] is meeting with this dictator after these things have been said.”

Barbara Slavin in Washington contributed to this article.

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