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British FM Calls Visit by Libyan Counterpart Historic - 2004-02-10


Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw calls the visit by his Libyan counterpart to London truly historic and offers what he called tangible proof the relations between the two countries are improving.

The British government is calling the talks with Libya's Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdul Rahman Shalgam to the country a milestone on the road to better relations.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said it is an important step. The ultimate goal, he said, is to normalize relations between the two countries. "This truly is an historic visit, the first by a Libyan Foreign Minister in over 20 years. And the visit is tangible proof of the improving relations between Libya and the United Kingdom," he said.

The opening of the world to Libya follows Tripoli's decision last August to sign a $2.7 billion compensation package for the families of the Lockerbie bombing victims and its move in December to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction.

At a news conference following Mr. Shalgam's meetings with Prime Minister Tony Blair and Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary said Libya's decision on weapons of mass destruction was courageous. "The announcement opened the way to Libya's reintegration into the international community. It showed too that problems of proliferation can, with goodwill, be tackled through discussion and engagement," he said.

Mr. Shalgam, speaking through a translator, said Libya made its own decision to come clean on the weapons of mass destruction. "Regarding the programs of weapons of mass destruction, we are the one who took the initiative in this matter. What the agencies and the other agencies do in Libya is not inspection but verification," he said.

He rejected claims made by some Arab governments that Libya was buckling under Western pressure. "Some of those who want to poison these Libyan initiatives, some of them are close to us, there are others who are far from us. They twist the truth and the facts. They say, Libya gave concessions, Libya is afraid. This is politics," he said.

Britain says Mr. Blair will repay the foreign minister's visit and will travel to Tripoli soon.

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