Libya comes in from the cold
Colonel Gadafy has played a smart game in patching up his relations with the west
Michael Frendo guardian.co.uk, Monday September 15 2008 08.00 BST
The recent signing in Tripoli of "a comprehensive claims settlement" between the United States and Libya marks a new beginning not only in US-Libya relations, but between Libya and the rest of the world. The agreement provides a process for compensating the victims of attacks ranging from the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, to the US air strikes on Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986. It has thus removed a final hurdle to Libya establishing normal diplomatic and economic relations with the west and opened the way for US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's visit to Tripoli.
The joint statement, while clinically welcoming the agreement, states that both parties "thereby turn their focus to the future of their bilateral relationship", underscoring "the benefits an expansion of ties would provide for both countries as well as for the American and Libyan peoples". This is a far cry from recent years, when staying at a Libyan-owned hotel would make you subject to a US felony charge.
Clearly, the way is now open for US-Libya relations to move forward in the same way that the release of a group of Bulgarian nurses, who were jailed in Libya on charges of deliberately infecting Libyan children with AIDS, unblocked EU-Libya relations. Indeed, Libya has also just strengthened its relations with the EU: Seif al-Islam Gadafy, the son of Libya's long-serving leader, recently declared that soon the two sides should be able to sign an association agreement, giving Libyan goods access to European markets.
In his effort to restore seemingly irreparably damaged relations with the west, Colonel Gadafy has played the oil and gas cards that he holds extremely well. Indeed, the west's hunger for energy has brought invitations for Libya's leader to visit France, Spain, and Portugal within the past year.
This opening is welcome, because Libya remains heavily engaged with the other countries of North Africa, and across Africa in general, as well as with Arab states. A more development-minded Libya could help dampen tensions in these vital regions. Indeed, Gadafy's emphatic call for Libya to embrace the market economy could have a sort of revolutionary domino effect among North Africa's "dirigiste" economies, improving the chances for a revitalisation of plans to open and integrate the Maghreb Union economies.
Libya's newfound engagement with the US and the EU represents not only a major shift in its international policies and diplomatic posture, but also a major internal reorientation, because the country now wants to develop an economy that is not exclusively based on oil. Indeed, like so many post-communist countries over the past 20 years, Libya is now making the gradual and at times painful transition to a market economy. Given that Islamic fundamentalism breeds in economic despair, Libya's rulers seem to want to take particular care that this process does not create an underclass of victims who might fall prey to the call of religious fanatics.
Of course, it is unrealistic and naive to expect that the changes now under way in Libya will result in a rapid transition to European-style democracy. Libyan politics will undoubtedly continue to be based on Gaddafi's Green Book and "people power," as expressed in its People's Congress. But Gadafy now seems to want to reconcile his teachings and rule with a more open economy, including foreign direct investment and market-based competition.
Internally, Libya has launched a "Go East" policy, so that development does not become clustered only in its oil and gas regions and around the capital of Tripoli. It wants, in particular, to ensure that the people and tribes in its Eastern "Cyrenaica" territories centered in Benghazi have a chance to develop equally with the rest of the country.
A bulwark of secular government and anti-fundamentalism in a North Africa that is struggling to contain the spread of Islamic extremism, Libya is of strategic importance to Europe and the US beyond its oil riches, notwithstanding the overwhelming significance of its energy resources. Fully aware of its growing importance in an oil-starved world, Libya will use that advantage to the full and it will no doubt guard, with Gaddafi at the forefront, its sovereign rights vociferously and assiduously.
Nevertheless, drawing Libya deeper into international discourse, despite the possibility of roadblocks along the way, is a strategic decision that, now that it has been taken, the west must pursue with patience, perseverance, and constant nurturing. In that process, underestimating Libyan diplomacy, shrewdness and negotiating skills is the folly of the ignorant.
Michael Frendo was Malta's foreign minister from 2004 to 2008, during which Malta became a member of the European Union.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2008.
Libya to sign up for more Bangladeshi workers
Thu, Oct 30th, 2008 10:01 pm BdST
Dhaka, Oct 30 (bdnews24.com)—Libya will take in more Bangladeshi workers as the two countries are set to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on manpower, says an adviser.
The MoU will be signed during Friday's Bangladesh-Libya bilateral talks at the state guesthouse.
The visiting Libyan labour minister Maa'touq Mohammed Maa'touq, who arrived in the city Thursday morning, and foreign adviser Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury will lead their respective sides at the talks.
"The MoU will not only facilitate the dispatch of more manpower, but will also protect the interest and promote the welfare of our workers," the foreign adviser told reporters Thursday at his office.
According to the government, some 20,000 Bangladeshi workers have been working in Libya, a common stopover on the route for illegal movement of Asians and Africans to reach Italy and the European Union.
"This 20,000 is likely to increase manifold after the signing of the new MoU. The understanding will open a new door for all categories of workers," said Iftekhar.
Libya's Final Payment to Victims' Fund Clears Way for Normal U.S. Ties
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 1, 2008; Page A10
Libya made its final payment yesterday into a $1.5 billion fund for American victims of terrorism, the State Department said, clearing the way for full normalization of ties between two countries with a history of antagonism dating to the 1980s.
President Bush, in exchange, signed an executive order yesterday restoring Libya's immunity from terrorism-related lawsuits and dismissing pending compensation cases.
The rapprochement with Libya began during the Clinton administration but intensified under Bush in 2003 after Tripoli agreed to give up its weapons of mass destruction. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in September became the first secretary of state in more than half a century to visit the Libyan capital, where she had dinner with the country's mercurial leader, Moammar Gaddafi.
In 2003, Libya agreed to pay $2.7 billion to the families of the 270 victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and diplomatic relations between the two countries were restored in 2006. But full progress was slowed by litigation stemming from Libya's involvement in other acts of terrorism.
In August, the last hurdle preventing Rice's visit was cleared when the United States and Libya agreed to settle all outstanding terrorism-related litigation, including claims resulting from the 1986 bombing of the La Belle disco frequented by U.S. military personnel in Berlin. The deal also settled Libyan claims for 40 deaths -- including an adopted child of Gaddafi's -- caused by a U.S. bombing raid over Tripoli in retaliation for the Berlin deaths.
All told, the fund will hold $1.8 billion, including $1.5 billion for claims for the Lockerbie and La Belle cases and $300 million for the Libyan victims.
"This removes the last obstacle to a normal relationship between the United States and Libya, and we will work on that now going forward," said Assistant Secretary of State C. David Welch.
Libyan payments to the fund came slower than expected, prompting U.S. lawmakers to refuse to confirm Bush's nominee for ambassador to Libya or approve funds for a new U.S. embassy in Tripoli. Welch said Libya made a $300 million payment on Oct. 9, a payment of $600 million on Thursday and a final payment of $600 million yesterday.
Welch would not say whether the $300 million for Libyan victims had been deposited, but he said none of the funds would come from U.S. taxpayers. Welch said there was no ban against U.S. companies in Libya participating in the fund, adding, "I obviously don't know whether they have done so or not."
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who had protested the slow progress on filling the fund, issued a statement welcoming the move. "American victims and their families have waited decades for Libya to pay for its deadly acts of violence, and today they have received long-overdue justice," he said. "I am pleased that our relentless pressure and support for terror victims has led to this historic moment."
Victims' families, who should begin receiving payments within days, also hailed the announcement.
"Today the government of Libya paid its final debt to terror committed long ago," Kara Weipz, spokeswoman for the Families of the Victims of Pan Am 103, whose brother Rick Monetti was aboard the plane, told the Associated Press. "While our loved ones will never be forgotten, we are glad this chapter in our efforts is finally over."
The announcement came as Gaddafi began his first visit to post-Soviet Russia, seeking a variety of arms deals. Kommersant, a leading Russian business newspaper, reported that Gaddafi was prepared to offer Russia's navy access to Libya's Mediterranean port of Benghazi.