Sun, Dec 21, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Qaddafi's Libya ready to come in from the cold

SECRET NEGOTIATIONS Tripoli's announcement that it was ending its weapons of mass destruction program was the culmination of nine months of meetings

REUTERS , TRIPOLI

Libya made clear yesterday it wanted to come in from the cold after decades as a pariah state, and the US and Britain promised to reward its decision to abandon ban-ned weapons programs.

Almost 15 years to the day since its agents brought down a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Muammar Qaddafi's state opened the prospect of an end to sanctions and a return of US oil firms with a pledge on Friday to stop seeking weapons of mass destruction. Britain said it had been close to an atomic bomb.

Some US officials cautioned that Libya's move, the culmination of secret negotiations launched around the start of the US-led Iraq war and announced less than a week after US forces captured former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, still left it too early to say when, or if, Washington will lift sanctions.

Britain suggested Saddam's fate could have been different if he had cooperated.

US President George W. Bush, who also accuses Iran and North Korea of seeking nuclear arms, said he hoped other leaders would follow the example of Qaddafi.

European critics of the invasion of Iraq remarked pointedly that it showed peaceful diplomacy could bring about disarmament.

"Libya wants to solve all problems and we want to focus on development and advancing our country. This [weapons] program does not benefit our people or country," Foreign Minister Mohamed Abderrhmane Chalgam told al Jazeera television.

"We want to have ties with America and Britain because this is in the interest of our people," Chalgam said in the first televised comments by a top Libyan official on Tripoli's move.

The announcement came ahead of today's anniversary of the Christmas 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland that killed 270 people. British relatives of the victims welcomed the news that dialogue had brought disarmament, Tripoli's second dramatic step this year to rejoin the international community.

Libya was freed of broader UN sanctions this year after accepting responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paying billions to victims' families. Washington left its sanctions in place, alleging Tripoli sought biological and chemical weapons. Washington bans most economic activity and bars visits to Libya using US passports without US government permission.

"We want to defend our peoples' interests," Chalgam said.

US warplanes bombed Tripoli in 1986 after the bombing of a West Berlin nightclub frequented by American soldiers. Qaddafi's home was hit in the US attack and his adopted daughter killed.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw praised Qaddafi, labelled a "mad dog" by former US president Ronald Reagan.

"He needs to be applauded in unqualified terms for what he has done. I believe it is very statesmanlike and courageous," Straw told BBC radio yesterday.

"If Saddam had come to us a year ago or more ... then the situation in Iraq would have been a very different one."

Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, played down any link with Iraq in the timing of Libya's negotiations.

"We started the cooperation before even the invasion of Iraq," he told CNN.

But he added: "It's a critical deal for Libya, because first of all we will get access to defensive weapons and no sanctions on Libyan arms imports any more. We will get access to the know-how and technology in sectors which were banned."

US officials said Libya's nuclear program was "much further advanced" than thought and it acknowledged cooperating with North Korea to develop long-range Scud missiles.

This story has been viewed 3441 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top