VALLETTA, MALTA – 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 thus removes a final hurdle to Libya establishing normal diplomatic and economic relations with the West and opens the way for US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Tripoli this week.
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 European Union-Libya relations. Indeed, Libya has also just strengthened its relations with the EU: Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s long-serving ruler, Muammar al-Gaddafi, 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, Gaddafi has played the oil and gas cards that he holds extremely well. Indeed, the West’s hunger for energy brought invitations for Libya’s leader to visit France, Spain, and Portugal within the past year.