US resumes diplomatic ties with Libya after 24 years
The United States Monday formally restored diplomatic ties with Libya severed for 24 years and U.S. President Bush pledged to work toward a complete normalization of relations between the two countries.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns said in a statement he had formally inaugurated the new U.S. Liaison Office in Tripoli and restored direct diplomatic ties.
"This occurs 24 years after the withdrawal of American personnel and the closure of the U.S. Embassy. ... Libya would be taking its own steps to establish diplomatic representation in the U.S.," he added.
Burns issued the statement after meeting with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and other government ministers.
In a letter to Gaddafi, Bush hailed cooperation between U.S. and Libyan experts on scrapping the North African country's weapons of mass destruction programs, the official Libyan news agency Jana said.
"President Bush praised in his letter to brother leader (Gaddafi) that this continuing cooperation ... will speed up the process of bringing up bilateral relations to the hoped-for level," Jana said.
Burns handed Bush's letter to Gaddafi during a meeting in Tripoli on his second visit in three months, it said.
The United States closed its embassy in Libya in 1980 after attacks on two French missions there. Relations deteriorated, culminating in the U.S. bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986 and the 1988 bombing of a U.S. passenger plane over Lockerbie, Scotland. A Libyan was convicted of the crime in 2001.
But after decades of enmity, U.S.-Libyan ties have improved greatly since Tripoli announced on last December that it would abandon the pursuit of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and allow international arms inspectors into the country.
"The American president confirmed in the letter the U.S. commitment to work with the Great Jamahiriya (Libya) to improve bilateral relations and normalize their political, economic, trade and cultural ties," Jana added.
U.S. officials said last week that a U.S. team would visit Libya Monday to help assess whether it sponsors terrorism.
They said the visit had been long planned and was not directly tied to recent allegations -- which Libya has denied -- that Gaddafi ordered Libyan intelligence agents to kill Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah.
Burns said the two sides discussed the plot charges as well as Tripoli's commitment to support the global war on terrorism and renounce "the use of violence for political purposes."
Washington has imposed sanctions on Libya because of its presence on the annual list of states that support terrorism. The sanctions include a ban on arms-related exports and on most U.S. economic aid.
The United States relaxed its trade embargo on Libya April 23 to allow U.S. companies to buy its oil and invest in its economy for the first time since 1986.
Burns said Washington is encouraging Libya to make good on promises about domestic reforms and human rights.
Burns's statement said he reiterated to Libyan officials Bush's commitment that "should Libya pursue internal reform, America will be ready to help its people build a more free and prosperous country."