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'Libya Can be Important Partner in Fight Against Terrorism,'  says Blair - 2004-03-25

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Libya can be an important partner in the fight against international terrorism. He spoke after meeting with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The two men shook hands and posed for photographs before going into private talks, marking the first high-level visit between a British and Libyan leader in several decades.

British officials described the meeting as a reward for Libya's decision to abandon its weapons of mass destruction programs last year.

Mr. Blair said Mr. Gadhafi, once termed "the mad dog of the Middle East" could now be a partner with the West in the fight against terrorism and Islamic extremism.

"I was particularly struck at our earlier meeting with Colonel Gadhafi by his insistence not only to carry on down this path of this cooperation but also his recognition that Libya's own future is best secured by a new relationship with the outside world," he said. "And the recognition also of a common cause with us in the fight against al-Qaida extremism and terrorism, which threatens not just the Western world, but the Arab world also."

Conservative critics in Britain accused Mr. Blair of poor timing, because the visit took place a day after a large memorial service for the victims of the Madrid train bombing.

That attack was the worst in Europe since the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, which was linked to Libyan terrorists. Libya recently agreed to pay compensation to the victims' families.

Mr. Blair said it is time to move on, but not to forget.

"In reaching out the hand of partnership today, we do not forget the past but we do try in the light of the genuine changes happening to move beyond them," he said.

Mr. Blair also announced that a major defense deal with Libya is in the works.