TRIPOLI (AFP) – Libya is basking in a new era of ties with the United States after Washington’s announcement of a resumption of full diplomatic relations, emphasising no concessions had been made to ensure the rapprochement.
Foreign Minister Abdel Rahman Shalgham welcomed the announcement — which also saw Libya’s removal from the US list of states that sponsor terrorism — as a “new page” in relations between the two countries.
The foreign ministry’s information chief Hassuna al-Shawesh told a news conference “no concession” was made to the US, saying relations would be “based on mutual respect and equality, without interference in internal affairs”.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had said Washington will soon open an embassy in Tripoli. Diplomatic ties were broken in 1981, two years after the US embassy was sacked by radical student demonstrators.
Their resumption also comes two decades after alleged Libyan-sponsored terror attacks prompted the US to launch air raids on Tripoli, killing 51 people.
Rice said on Monday: “We are taking these actions in recognition of Libya’s commitment to its renunciation of terrorism and the excellent cooperation Libya has provided to the United States and other members of the international community in response to common global threats faced by the civilized world since September 11, 2001.”
Shawesh even indicated that the top US diplomat could visit Tripoli soon, saying Libya “is waiting for an upcoming visit by Ms Rice and we are happy for this.” Such a visit has not been excluded by the US.
Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East David Welch said in Washington US diplomatic representation in Tripoli will be elevated to the rank of ambassador within 15 days.
The improvement in relations and Monday’s announcement of a resumption of full diplomatic ties follows Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi’s decision in December, 2003 to halt its programme of weapons of mass destruction.
After Kadhafi agreed to open Libya’s weapons production sites to inspection by US and British experts, Washington opened a special interests section in Tripoli in February, 2004. This was later upgraded to a “liaison office” the same year.
Shawesh said all differences between Libya and the US have now been resolved, and that Monday’s announcement “will give a major boost to economic and political ties” between the two countries.
The foreign ministry said in a statement that “the resumption of full diplomatic relations between Libya and America is an important step destined to reinforce bilateral ties in the interests of world peace, stability and security”.
Welcoming the decision in London, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said: “Libya has made significant progress since its historic decisions in 2003 to renounce terrorism and eliminate its weapons of mass destruction.”
The Libyan foreign minister said Monday’s announcement came after “several meetings” between representatives of the two countries, and that the decision to resume normal diplomatic ties was taken “several days ago”.
Rice on Monday highlighted the move to restore full diplomatic relations with Libya as an example for Iran and North Korea, which the US has branded rogue nations and sponsors of terror.
“Just as 2003 marked a turning point for the Libyan people, so too could 2006 mark turning points for the peoples of Iran and North Korea,” she said.
“We urge the leadership of Iran and North Korea to make similar strategic decisions that would benefit their citizens.”