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US, Libya to hold talks on improving ties
( 2004-02-04 10:02) (Agencies)

U.S. and Libyan officials will meet in London on Friday for talks expected to include the possibility of easing U.S. economic sanctions and resuming an American diplomatic presence in Tripoli, U.S. officials said.

The meetings, which will include British officials, reflect Washington's desire to make some gestures to reward Libya for its Dec. 19 decision to give up its weapons of mass destruction program and its follow-through since then, officials said.

The officials stressed that it could be some time before the vast array of U.S. economic sanctions are removed or before the United States might open an embassy in Tripoli. But they said they wanted to open a "political dialogue" now.

Tripoli's surprise decision to abandon its weapons of mass destruction programs and its admission of responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in August have paved the way for an improvement in U.S.-Libyan relations after years of enmity.

With Libya's cooperation, U.S. weapons experts last month combed the country for such arms and last week the United States said it had taken possession of 55,000 pounds (25,000 kg) of equipment and documents from Libya's nuclear program.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Assistant Secretary of State William Burns would represent the United States at the London talks but gave no details on what steps Washington might take on sanctions or diplomatic ties.

"This is the result of positive steps that Libya has been taking to eliminate all elements of its weapons of mass destruction programs and controlled classes of missiles," Boucher said. He also said he expected a new U.S. team of weapons experts to visit Libya soon to continue dismantling its arms programs.

"Now that we've seen a couple weeks of action on the removal and verification, it's appropriate to have a political dialogue on what lies ahead," Boucher added. "The situation with Libya has fundamentally changed."

Lifting sanctions would allow U.S. oil companies, including the Oasis Group that includes Marathon Oil Co., Amerada Hess and ConocoPhillips to resume work in Libya that they abandoned when sanctions forced them out in 1986.

"There are several stages on the road to better relations with Libya and at the end of the road, there are normal diplomatic relations ... and full integration into the international community," said another U.S. official.

The United States wants to ensure there is no backsliding by Libya on abandoning banned weapons and in ending any support for "terrorism" before improving ties but they do not want to frustrate Libyan officials who agreed to give up the weapons.

"This is something that we will move forward on at a deliberate pace. (It is) a step-by-step approach that is contingent on Libyan action," this official said.

U.S. officials have said the first sanction likely to be removed is one that bars Americans from traveling to Libya on their U.S. passports. The State Department said on Nov. 24 that it would review the passport restriction every 90 days.

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