U.S. eases economic sanctions on Libya

Kadafi gives up weapons of mass destruction

oil business can resume

April 24, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - President Bush eased economic sanctions on Libya yesterday, rewarding Col. Muammar el Kadafi for renouncing weapons of mass destruction and opening opportunities for American companies to do business in his nation.

The action, announced by the White House while Bush was in Florida, had been anticipated for many weeks. But it was nonetheless drastic, since it softened a hard-line policy that has been in place for years against a leader who was once an enemy of the United States.

The easing of sanctions imposed in 1986 and 1996 means that oil imports from Libya can resume and that several American oil companies that have assets in Libya but have been barred from doing business there can resume business.

"Through its actions, Libya has set a standard that we hope other nations will emulate in rejecting weapons of mass destruction and in working constructively with international organizations to halt the proliferation of the world's most dangerous systems," the White House said in a statement yesterday afternoon.

Libya's announcement Dec. 19 that it was giving up weapons of mass destruction and its actions since then "have made our country and the world safer," the statement said.

But the statement made it clear that the estrangement with Libya has not totally ended. Strict controls on exports to Libya will be maintained, since Libya remains on the United States' list of countries designated as sponsors of terrorism. Direct air service to Libya is not authorized, and Libyan assets held in the United States or by American banks will remain frozen.

Political and economic factors aside, there have been years of bad blood between the United States and Kadafi. Libyan agents were suspected in a Berlin nightclub bombing that killed two American soldiers on April 5, 1986. Ten days later, President Ronald Reagan ordered a bombing strike against Libya. The attack reportedly killed the colonel's daughter.

Although some estrangement remains, yesterday's announcement is a milestone. It came not long after Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain visited Kadafi, and it followed several months of signals from Washington that Tripoli's good behavior would be recognized.

Various theories have been offered for Kadafi's overtures to the West. His country of 5.5 million has been impoverished, and revenue from oil offers a chance to turn things around.

Some officials in the Bush administration have asserted that Kadafi was persuaded to change his style because of what happened to Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Some people who have followed Kadafi since he took power in a 1969 coup have speculated that the dictator, now in his early 60s, wants to leave a more favorable legacy.

There will not be a U.S. embassy in Libya anytime soon. There will, however, be an American liaison office reflecting the "deepening dialogue and diplomatic engagement" between the countries, the White House said.

In addition to its renunciation of unconventional weapons, Libya has reaffirmed its responsibility for the 1988 bombing of a Pan American jetliner over Scotland. Libya also agreed to pay $2.7 billion to survivors of the 270 victims.

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