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US Congressional Delegations Set for Libya Visit - 2004-01-21


Two U.S. congressional delegations, one official and one unofficial, are set to go to Libya. The lawmakers hope to meet Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and other senior officials.

Congressman Tom Lantos, ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, is going ahead with plans for a visit to Tripoli starting this weekend.

Mr. Lantos says Libya extended the invitation following discussions "spanning several months," and he accepted in the wake of Libya's decision to renounce development of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Mr. Lantos emphasizes the official nature of his trip, accompanied by committee staff members, adding that it is being made in coordination with the White House and Department of State.

Apparently, the same cannot be said of a separate visit planned for about the same time by another member of Congress.

Republican Congressman Curt Weldon is vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He has built a name for himself as a foreign policy maverick, often grabbing headlines on such issues as nuclear proliferation, North Korea, and homeland security.

Mr. Weldon says he will also leave this coming weekend for Libya, accompanied by five other lawmakers, and expects to have talks with Libyan leader Gaddafi.

The groundwork for the talks was set during a meeting in London earlier this month with Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, second son of the Libyan leader.

He has played an increasingly more visible role in Libya, as well as abroad, as a spokesman for his father and is widely thought to be in line to succeed him.

Mr. Weldon is quoted as saying the purpose of the visit is to acknowledge the decision Mr. Gaddafi made to renounce weapons development.

The congressman expects to be able to visit one of the sites Libya has agreed to open to international weapons inspectors.

Congressional aides deny there was any competition between the two lawmakers over timing of their Libyan visits, but add that Mr. Lantos had spent about one year on arrangements, working closely with the Bush administration.

Mr. Weldon upset the Bush administration last October when he led a delegation to North Korea, just as Washington was working with allies on ways to resolve the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang.

An aide to Mr. Weldon told VOA Wednesday the Bush administration is aware of the congressman's upcoming visit to Libya.

Congressman Lantos has been one of the toughest critics of Libya on human rights and other grounds. His statement said he held a lengthy discussion Wednesday with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, William Burns.

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