The Bush Administration's announcement of the lifting of some U.S. sanctions on Libya nudges Washington and Tripoli closer to resuming full diplomatic ties. It also marks another step in Libya's quest for international legitimacy.
In lifting its sanctions on Libya, the United States has rewarded Libya for renouncing its weapons of mass destruction. But the government of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi has still fallen short of full international respectability. The final step to resumption of diplomatic ties between Washington and Tripoli still remains to be taken - the removal of Libya from the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli cautioned that the United States is not yet ready to take that step. "When one analyzes a country's involvement with terrorism, you want to make sure that past associations have been fully severed, there are no current activities under way, and, finally, that that kind of behavior is sustained over a period of time," he said.
Once branded as an outlaw state run by a man that former President Ronald Reagan labeled a madman and unpredictable fanatic, Libya has now acknowledged responsibility for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 259 people died. After years of wrangling, Libya agreed to pay out some $10 million to each of the victims' families, but tied the payments to a series of steps lifting U.S. and international sanctions.
Jim Kreindler, an attorney for many of the families, told VOA that the Libyan government recognized early on in the negotiations that settlement of the Pan Am 103 case was linked to shedding its status as an international pariah.
"It became clear that Libya was interested in settling the case not simply to avoid a lawsuit, but the Libyans recognized that resolving the Pan Am 103 issues was the key to, or a key to, normalizing relations with the West, particularly the United States," he said.
The Bush Administration has pointed to Libya's renunciation of its weapons of mass destruction as a success for its tough policy. Mansour El-Khikia, a Libyan exile and professor of political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio, says Colonel Gadhafi is not the only one to reap political capital from the thaw between Washington and Tripoli.
"He's (Gadhafi) an opportunist. But politicians are opportunists, and good politicians are good opportunists. And so I think Gadhafi knows exactly where Bush is, and what position he is in, and he's willing to give him the credit for removing the sanctions off Libya. That's okay. In the end, Gadhafi gets what he wants, and Bush gets what he wants," he said.
In addition to getting the sanctions lifted, Libya will now have access to some $1.3 billion in assets that were frozen following the Pan Am bombing.