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Powell, Libyan FM meet in sign of improved ties
Updated: 2004-09-24 09:56

US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelraham Shalgham met in the highest-level contact between the two countries in decades amid a sharp improvement in ties between Washington and Tripoli.

Powell and Shalgham, in New York to attend the UN General Assembly shook hands and smiled for photographers before sitting down for talks at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel but made no substantive comments to reporters.

Neither US nor Libyan officials were immediately available to comment on the meeting, but on Wednesday a senior US State Department official said the talks would focus on recent positive developments in the relationship and how to proceed.

"The purpose is to follow up with the Libyans on the steps that they and we have taken recently, to try to keep that process going and to look at what comes next," the official said.

The official said concerns about Libya's alleged support for terrorism would be a likely topic of discussion. "Certainly the issue of Libya's past support for terrorism is something that will come up," the official said.

The meeting followed the lifting this week of most remaining US economic sanctions on Libya, a move that clears the way for huge compensation payments to the families of victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing blamed on Tripoli.

It also came on the heels of an invitation to visit Libya to US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham who, if he accepts, would be the first US cabinet official to travel there since Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi came to power in the 1969 coup.

US President George W. Bush on Monday signed an executive order removing restrictions on aviation services with Libya, permitting direct scheduled and charter flights and unblocking approximately 1.3 billion dollars in frozen Libyan assets.

Libya had set a September 22 deadline for the United States to lift sanctions to pave the way for payment of the next tranche of compensation to families of the 270 people killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

Libya agreed last year to abandon its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, following secret negotiations with the United States and Britain.

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