Libya stunned the world last December when it announced that it was terminating its weapons of mass destruction program and inviting international inspectors to dismantle its arsenal of unconventional arms.
While many observers believe that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi acted to avoid a fate like that of Iraq's fallen dictator Saddam Hussein, others believe Colonel Gadhafi's motives for renouncing nuclear and chemical weapons are more complex.
As befits a man who is often described as mercurial, Colonel Gadhafi's decision to give up his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction came as a surprise. The Bush administration hailed his sudden move as a vindication of its new, tough approach to proliferation of the deadly weapons.
The Libyan leader himself, speaking to an African Union summit in late February, seemed to acknowledge that, in a world that has changed profoundly since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, it was no longer a good idea for him to develop a nuclear arsenal.
"Any national state that will adopt these policies cannot protect herself," he said. "On the contrary, it will expose itself to danger. A nuclear arms race is a crazy and destructive policy for economy and life. We would like to have a better economy and improve life."
Libya's struggling economy is another key to Colonel Gadhafi's decision to dump his nuclear program and rebuild ties to the West, which has treated him as an outcast for most of the past 20 years.
Diplomats in Tripoli say Libya has squandered much of its vast oil riches on Colonel Gadhafi's quixotic attempts to lead the Arab world and Africa and to build a unique form of Libyan socialism at home.
At the Academy of Graduate Studies, a semi-independent research institute in Tripoli, director Salah Ibrahim says that is all changing now. Mr. Ibrahim, an economist, is close to Seif al-Islam al-Gadhafi, the colonel's 31-year-old son and heir apparent, and to Shukri Ghanem, the U.S.-educated prime minister who is trying to reform the economy by pushing for privatization of state firms.
The younger Mr. Gadhafi is on record as saying he wants his country to be linked to the developed world and become a safe destination for foreign investment, which has been largely scared off by sanctions, corruption and red tape.
According to Mr. Ibrahim, there is no reason any longer for enmity between Libya and the West.
He says the elements that, in the past, caused friction and confrontation with the United States and the West have ceased to exist and that Libya no longer has any reason to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Ibrahim says Arab countries have turned their back on the idea of Arab unity propounded by Colonel Gadhafi and that even the Palestinians are now trying to negotiate with Israel, a country that Libya once regarded as a major threat to its security. So why, he asks, should not Libya negotiate with the West to try to find solutions to outstanding issues?
Colonel Gadhafi's decision to dump his weapons of mass destruction program came after nine months of secret negotiations with U.S. and British officials. In rapid succession, he has turned over his most sensitive nuclear equipment, given international inspectors more information than they ever hoped to get on the clandestine supply network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb program-and destroyed thousands of chemical munitions shells.
Proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione, at Washington's Carnegie Endowment, says Colonel Gadhafi has become what he calls the poster child for non-proliferation. But he doubts that fear of a U.S. attack motivated the colonel's decision to renounce weapons of mass destruction.
"It was Libya's desire for western markets, western investment and integration with Europe that were the dominant factors in Gadhafi's considerations," he said. "He didn't really fear that, somehow, the U.S. was going to invade Tripoli. There was no evidence that he thought he was, somehow, next or even in line on the U.S. hit list, particularly since the U-S now has its hands full in Iraq."
Mr. Cirincione's opinion is shared by U.S. Representative Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican who has led two congressional delegations to Libya this year and wants to see Libyan-U.S. relations normalized.
"I think it's the realization that Libya wants to rejoin the world economy," he said. "And to rejoin the world economy, you can't be listed as a terrorist nation and you can't be building weapons of mass destruction that are only going to cause the kind of feelings that we've had over the last several years."
In response to Libya's elimination of its weapons of mass destruction and its payment of compensation to relatives of the victims of the 1988 bombing of a U.S. airliner over Scotland, the United States has lifted a ban on Americans traveling to Libya. It also announced it would allow U.S. oil firms that left Libya in 1986 as part of U.S. sanctions against Tripoli, to negotiate their return to the country. And it invited the Libyans to establish a diplomatic presence in Washington by opening an interests section.
But Libya is hoping for more. Mr. Ibrahim, at the Academy for Graduate Studies, says his country wants nothing less than the end of U.S. sanctions.
He says Libya seeks U.S. and European help to develop the Libyan economy and reform Libyan institutions. He says Libya wants the U.S. embargo to end. Libyans, he says, have been deprived from studying in the United States. Libya's oil and civil aviation sectors, he adds, have been deprived of spare parts under the sanctions.
European diplomats in Tripoli say Libya has kept the concessions once exploited by American oil companies on hold, in the hope that U.S. oil industry lobbyists would persuade their government to end the sanctions so that the firms can return to Libya. Libya produces only half as much oil as it did in the 1970s, and only a quarter of the country has been explored for oil. Libyan officials say their oil industry is in bad need of U.S. technology to find more oil and pump it out. That, say the diplomats, is the major reason for Libya's moves to make up with the United States.