Washington,Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice intends on visiting the Libyan capital Tripoli in October and will be the first American secretary of state to visit Libya in over half a century.
John Foster Dulles was the last secretary of state to visit Libya in 1953. Several US officials had visited Libya following the normalization of relations last May, most notably Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, and Franx Frago, the White House terrorism adviser for. According to information that Asharq al-Awsat has obtained from informed sources, the visit is scheduled for October.
State Department sources refrained from confirming the date for Rice’s visit and an official source told Asharq Al-Awsat: “There is no date at present.”
David Foley, the Middle East and North Africa Department spokesman, said the “secretary announced she intends to visit Libya at a suitable time and one of the aims of David Welch’s current visit to Tripoli is to create the right conditions for this visit.” Foley revealed that meetings were held between Welch and Libyan officials in Europe recently but did not mention their dates or the issues discussed by the two sides.
Welch’s visit coincided with a noticeable call by Sayf-al-Islam al-Qadhafi, Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi’s son, to draw up a constitution for the country. The last constitution was under the monarchy. Washington had hinted several times at the need for Libya to carry out political and economic reforms.
Sources in Washington linked the several postponements of Rice’s visit to Libya to the achievement of progress in the reform sphere. She was due to visit Tripoli in July 2006 but it was postponed when Washington insisted on the need to release the Bulgarian nurses. No date has been set yet for Jane Cretz, who was appointed by President Bush as the country’s ambassador to Libya in June, to appear before the Senate to have her nomination approved. Cretz was the deputy chief of the American diplomatic mission in Israel. The post of the US ambassador in Libya has remained vacant for 35 years. As to the reasons for the delay in the ambassador’s appearance before Congress to approve her nomination, a State Department source told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We have no explanations for this. You can ask the relevant committee in Congress.” It is noted that Congress is at present in its summer recess and will resume its sessions at the beginning of next month.
Some congressmen are saying they are going to object to the appointment of an ambassador in Libya if the issue of compensations for the victims of the bombing of a nightclub in Berlin in the 1980’s was not resolved. Some American soldiers were at the nightclub and it is believed that Libya was behind this operation.
At the conclusion of a meeting between David Welch, the US secretary of state’s assistant for Middle East affairs, and Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Rahman Shalqam in Tripoli yesterday, Ahmad al-Fituri, director of the two Americas’ department at the Libyan Foreign Ministry, said “Rice will arrive very soon and there are no obstacles preventing her from coming.”
Welch arrived in the Libyan capital the day before yesterday on a visit aimed in particular at setting a date for Rice’s visit and met Sayf-al-Islam al-Qadhafi in Benghazi.
Authoritative Libyan sources told “Asharq al-Awsat” that Abdul Rahman Shalqam received an official invitation from Condoleezza Rice to visit the United States and pointed out that the two sides agreed on continuing the visits between the two countries. An announcement was expected to be made setting the date for the visit by Rice who voiced last month her intention to visit Tripoli before the end of this year.
The US official has not met yet with Libyan leader Col. Al-Qadhafi. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte also did not meet him during his visit to Tripoli in April.
Preparations for concluding several economic agreements between the two countries were discussed at the meeting between Shalqam and Welch, especially the issue of preventing dual taxation and protection and encouragement of investments. They also discussed several international and regional issues of mutual interest, including Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Darfur, and Afghanistan.