Libyan and U.S. officials say they expect relations between the two countries to continue to improve, after nearly two decades of hostility. Analysts and lawmakers say the growing political and economic cooperation between Tripoli and Washington is being watched by other countries.
U.S. and Libyan lawmakers say they expect the two countries will establish full diplomatic relations by the end of this year, capping a rapid rapprochement that began in December 2003, when Libya announced it was giving up its chemical and nuclear weapons programs and would cooperate in the war on terrorism.
The move will come nearly 20 years after the United States imposed broad unilateral sanctions on Libya, citing what it called Tripoli's support of international terrorism, following the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people.
But the tenor of relations changed after Libya took responsibility for the bombing in 2003, and then agreed to dismantle its weapons programs. Washington subsequently lifted sanctions on Libya, and steadily increased political contacts with the Libyan government.
Ali Aujali, the chief of Libya's mission in Washington, says relations between the two countries have improved markedly over the past year, and he hopes that future ties will include growing economic cooperation, trade and even tourism.
Speaking at a symposium hosted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, the Libyan diplomat said such progress could serve as an example to other countries, if relations between Tripoli and Washington continue to improve.
"The Libyan decision to give up any programs for weapons of mass destruction is a historical one. But Libya by itself doing this, it will not be enough," he said. "There are other countries that need to do something. But to encourage other countries to do the same thing, they are looking towards how the Libya-America situation is improving."
President Bush has often cited Libya's decision to dismantle its chemical and nuclear weapons programs as a powerful example of how a once isolated country can quickly rejoin the world community. He has encouraged countries like Iran and North Korea to follow Tripoli's lead.
Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos took part in quiet talks to encourage Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to give up his weapons program. Speaking at VOA headquarters in Washington recently, Mr. Lantos said other countries at odds with the United States would be wise to pay attention to the new relationship between Tripoli and Washington.
"The opportunity for North Korea to follow the example of Libya is too obvious to need much elaboration," he said. "U.S. - Libyan relations have undergone a sea change. There is growing economic intercourse, there is growing tourism, there are the beginning of academic and student exchanges. I will bend every effort within my limited powers to bring about a similar situation between North Korea and the Untied States."
David Mack is the vice president of the Middle East Institute, and a former deputy assistant secretary of state. He says he is encouraged by recent conciliatory moves on the parts of both Washington and Tripoli. But he says a lack of dialogue between the United States and other countries is not advancing U.S. foreign policy goals, like nuclear-non proliferation and fighting the war on terror.
"One thing I know for sure, is that, if you are not talking with one another, as governments, you are not going to be able to deal with any issues," he said. "I don't think we advanced the human rights of Libyans one centimeter by not having relations with Libya all these years. I don't think we advanced the cause of the global war on terrorism by not dealing with countries that were prepared after September 2001 to change their policy, and to work with us in dealing with an international problem that affects the whole world."
International human rights advocates say that, although Libya has made strides politically and socially, much is left to do.
Trish Katyoka, Amnesty International's desk officer for Africa, is encouraging Tripoli to press ahead with what she calls positive human rights improvements. She says these include the identification and release of of prisoners of conscience.
But, she says, Libya's reintegration into the world community must go hand-in-hand with a continuing improvement of its human rights record.
"The concerns are serious, as far as Amnesty International is concerned," he said. "Prolonged incommunicado detention and torture is a reality. Blatant violations of the procedures of arrest and detention is a reality. Lack of accountability for past human rights violations is a reality."Ms. Katyoka says the United States has a special obligation to do whatever is necessary to promote human rights in Libya. She also called on Tripoli to immediately begin investigations into the fate of the many political prisoners who have disappeared in the country, as well as place a moratorium on all death sentences, pending review of the convictions.