WASHINGTON — After almost 25 years, the United States yesterday resumed direct diplomatic ties with Libya as part of efforts to improve relations following a Tripoli’s pledge late last year to renounce weapons of mass destruction (see GSN, June 10).
The new U.S. liaison office in Tripoli was formally inaugurated after Assistant Secretary of State Bill Burns and State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Cofer Black met with senior Libyan officials. The United States suspended embassy activities in Libya in 1980 and since February has conducted embassy activities through the U.S. interests section of the Belgian Embassy in Tripoli, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Burns yesterday provided Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qadhafi with a letter from U.S. President George W. Bush, in which Bush confirmed the commitment of the United States to improved relations with Libya, according to the official Libyan news agency JANA.
In addition, the U.S. State Department announced yesterday that a delegation of senior Libyan education representatives was scheduled to begin a three-week visit to the United States yesterday. The purpose of the visit is to help prepare for the return of Libyan students to U.S. colleges and universities, which the State Department said would be “an important step toward the normalization of ties between the two countries.”
Yesterday’s announcements are the latest moves by the Bush administration to reward Libya for making progress in fulfilling the pledge to dismantle its WMD programs. In late April, the Bush administration formally terminated the application of the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act with regard to Libya, removing most of the economic sanctions imposed against Tripoli.
Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation in Washington said today, though, that the United States may be going “a bridge too far” by resuming full diplomatic links with Libya. While Qadhafi has made progress in disarming, Gardiner said, “huge questions” remain concerning Libya’s human rights record and history of “meddling” in the affairs of its African neighbors.
Qadhafi “is a very dangerous figure and cannot be trusted,” Gardiner said, adding that the United States should keep the Libyan leader at “an arm’s length.”
The U.S. State Department has yet to remove Libya from the list of terrorism-sponsoring nations, meaning that restrictions on dual-use exports and a ban on exports of items listed on the U.S. Munitions List remain in place. The department did not return calls for comment today on whether there are plans to soon remove Libya from the terrorism-sponsor list.
Concerns over Libya’s lingering connections to terrorism increased earlier this month following reports that Libyan intelligence, with Qadhafi’s approval, sought last year to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. Details of the plot were separately revealed by an U.S. Muslim leader currently under arrest in the United States and a Libyan intelligence agent in Saudi custody, according to the Associated Press. Libya has denied the allegations.
Yesterday’s meeting between U.S. and Libyan officials “provided an opportunity to discuss Libya’s commitment to support the global war on terrorism and to repudiate the use of violence for political purposes,” according to the U.S. State Department.
State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said yesterday that the assassination plot allegations are still being investigated. He added, though, that the United States is satisfied with the progress Libya is making in fulfilling its no-WMD pledge.
“We are looking into these reports [and] we are trying to establish their veracity or not. That veracity has not yet been fully established,” Ereli said. “The here and now is that we’ve got a process under way with Libya … that process is moving forward satisfactorily and that we will act accordingly,” he added.