The United States is expected to officially remove Libya from its list of nations that sponsor terrorism soon. It's the latest step by the Bush administration to foster closer ties with Tripoli following its decision to end its weapons of mass destruction program. Even though thorny issues remain, the Bush administration hopes the Libyan example will be followed by other rogue states.
Libya has taken responsibility for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people. It also has scrapped its weapons of mass destruction program, sending crates of nuclear weapons equipment to the United States for disposal. These two moves - along with other actions - have thawed once-adversarial relations between the United States and Libya.
At a conference in Washington, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch underscored the changed relationship - and held out Libya as an example for other countries to follow.
"When countries decide to follow international norms of behavior we can in turn can change our isolation of them, offering a chance to reap concrete benefits,” he said. “I think many people see what we've been able to do with Libya can be used to encourage changes in policy by other countries such as Iran and North Korea."
Libya's Muammar Gaddafi had long been a nemesis of the United States. His regime was declared a state-sponsor of terrorism in 1979. In 1986, American jet fighters bombed targets in Libya, including his tent compound, following a suspected Libyan bombing of a German nightclub frequented by U.S. servicemen. The Libyan leader's adopted daughter was among the fatalities.
Eager to end his isolation, Colonel Gaddafi in December of 2003 swore off terrorism and unveiled plans to dismantle his country's weapons of mass destruction - an announcement that, coincidentally or not, came after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the capture of Saddam Hussein. President Bush welcomed the move and promised a new chapter in U.S.-Libyan relations.
"As the Libyan government takes these essential steps and demonstrates its seriousness, its good faith will be returned,” Bush said. “Libya can regain a secure and respected place among nations and over time achieve far better relations with the United States."
And relations have improved. U.S. congressmen have visited Libya and met with Colonel Gaddafi. U.S. businesses are eager to invest in Libya, especially in its extensive oil industry, following the lifting of a U.S. trade embargo and other economic sanctions.
Will Iran follow the example of Libya and give up its nuclear ambitions in return for the promise of improved relations with Washington? Not likely, says Reuel Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute.
“I don't think it is very realistic because I think the Iranians feel vastly more muscular than the regime of Muammar Ghaddafi did after the invasion of Iraq,” he said.
Even though relations are improving, some differences remain with a country where one man has absolute rule. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch says the United States will press Tripoli on human rights and other issues. At the recent Washington conference where he spoke, partly sponsored by the U.S. Libya Business Association, Libyan representative Ali Aujali made it clear that Tripoli views human rights differently.
"The human rights issue is our choice, also," he said. "It is a culture, it is education, you have to educate the people what is their rights, also. But at the same time, not all of a sudden, that you can apply the American and Western criteria to the countries of Africa and Asia. Time is necessary."
Compensation to the families of the Pan Am bombing victims is another sticking point. Libya says it no longer has a legal obligation to make the final payments. State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli urged Libya this week to resolve the issue. Meanwhile, some in Congress want to forbid issuing diplomatic credentials to the Libyan government unless it pays full restitution in the Pan Am case - a potential stumbling block in a relationship that otherwise is clearly warming.