The U.S. State Department says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will
visit Libya later this week, the first visit of its kind since 1953.
Rice will be in Libya on Friday as part of a broader trip to North
Africa and Portugal. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State
The Rice visit and planned meeting with Libyan
leader Muammar Gadhafi will climax a process of rapprochement that
began in 2003, when Libya accepted responsibility for acts of terrorism
and agreed to scrap its weapons of mass destruction and missile
U.S.-Libyan bilateral relations, which were broken off
in 1972, have been rebuilt step-by-step. The final hurdle to Rice's
visit was cleared last month when the two sides agreed on a financing
mechanism to clear away remaining claims from terrorism cases, notably
the 1988 bombing of a U.S. Pan Am jetliner over Scotland that killed
Announcing Rice's travel plans, State Department
Spokesman Sean McCormack called the impending visit to Tripoli historic
and said it signifies a new chapter in a relationship.
said Rice will go to the meetings in Libya with what he termed a
"healthy sense of history" about Libya's terrorist past, but he said
she is not a captive to that history and that restoring a normal
relationship has bipartisan support in Washington.
In a talk
with reporters, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
David Welch, a key go-between with Libya in recent years, said Rice
looks forward "with great interest" to meeting a Libyan leader once
characterized by former President Ronald Reagan as "the mad-dog of the
"We don't refer to Colonel Gadhafi in those terms
today. This is a relationship that has had a troubled past. But now,
it is on a much firmer foundation. He, as leader, has undertaken
certain decisions which have really changed things. It's important to
recognize that. Those are very much in America's national interests.
I would argue also in Libya's national interests," he said.
said one aim of the Rice mission is to "reach out and try to encourage"
Libyans interested in further economic and political reforms.
said the Secretary of State intends to discuss human rights with Libyan
officials, but he would not say whether she would raise the specific
case of leading Gadhafi critic Fahti al-Jahmi, who has been jailed
since 2004 after calling for elections and a free press.
al-Jahmi case has been championed by the New York-based monitoring
group Human Rights Watch. Its deputy director for the Middle East, Joe
Stork, says Rice should serve notice on Libya that there can be no
further improvement in relations without satisfactory resolution of the
al-Jahmi case, among others.
"There are a number of very
courageous political dissidents who have been imprisoned, sentenced to
long prison terms, or else detained without even the courtesy of a
prison term, simply for speaking out publicly, critically, about the
government. We know about people who have simply been 'disappeared,'
people who have been unaccounted for since they were arrested many
months, even years ago. These should be definitely at the top of her
list," he said.
Rice will begin the four-day trip in Lisbon for
talks with Portuguese leaders before going on to Libya, Tunisia,
Algeria and Morocco.
Welch said he expects human rights to be
discussed at each North African stop, along with counter-terrorism
efforts and regional issues, including the recent military coup in
Mauritania, the status of Western Sahara and Darfur.
U.S. Secretary of State to visit Libya was John Foster Dulles of the
Dwight Eisenhower administration, who went there in 1953. Then-Vice
President Richard Nixon also paid a visit, four years later.