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Libya Seeks Talks to Improve Ties with US - 2003-09-22

Libya says it hopes to begin a dialogue with Washington with a goal of resuming political relations and the flow of Libyan oil to the United States.

According to Libya's foreign minister, Tripoli is hopeful of opening a dialogue with Washington in an effort to normalize relations.

Foreign Minister Abd al-Rahman Shalgam told Britain's Financial Times that Libya wants to open bilateral talks within a matter of weeks with the aim of resuming normal relations, including trade.

Washington imposed sanctions against Libya for its role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The United States has also accused Tripoli of being involved in international terrorism and of seeking weapons of mass destruction.

On September 12, the United Nations permanently lifted sanctions it imposed on Libya for the Lockerbie bombing.

Tripoli paid $2.7 billion in compensation to the victims' families. Libya also accepted blame for the attack and renounced terrorism.

Last Thursday, the prime minister of Spain became the first head of state from the west to visit Libya since 1992. Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar called Libya an important new trading partner with Spain and signed agreements paving the way for foreign investment in such areas as agriculture, electricity, and oil.

Other European countries have also expressed an interest in renewing economic ties with Tripoli.

But Washington first wants Libya to prove it is not seeking weapons of mass destruction or involved in harboring terrorists before lifting its sanctions. In the meantime, it continues to maintain, among other things, a strict ban on the importation of Libyan oil.

Mr. Shalgam says his government is interested in resuming the flow of Libyan oil to the United States, in part to help pay off the $2.7 billion in debt from the compensation package it paid.

He said the oil-rich state planned to nearly triple its current oil production of 1.2 million barrels a day during the next 15 years to help pay off its debt. The prime minister said the help of U.S. oil companies would be imperative if Tripoli is to achieve that goal.