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Analyst Calls Improving US-Libya Relations Significant

Analyst Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the rapidly improving relationship between Libya and the United States is significant – but as not as significant as the Libyans would like it to be. Mr. Alterman says one of the Libyans’ constant complaints is that while they have complied with all that the United States has asked of them, Libya still remains on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The CSIS analyst says there are outstanding issues before the U.S. proceeds with full normalization. These include strong reports of Libyan involvement in an attempt to assassinate (now) King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia and the fate of Bulgarian nurses embroiled in a Libyan legal process after being accused if intentionally infecting Libyan children with AIDS. Mr. Alterman says these and other issues give US officials pause as to how close they want to get with the government of Libya.

Jon Alterman says full diplomatic relations with the United States can be something Libyans will take advantage of to make other changes in their society as they see fit. He says in many ways, Libya was cut off from the rest of the world for decades. With the prevailing diplomatic environment, Mr. Alterman says some in Libya want to make their country like the United Arab Emirates – a place he says is open and prosperous and attracts energy and technology investments. He says there are others who strongly oppose any type of change within their country. Mr. Alterman says the way in which these internal contradictions are resolved will determine the extent to which Libya will benefit from full diplomatic relations with the United States.

The CSIS analyst says if and when it happens, the establishment of full diplomatic ties between Libya and the United States will have minimal impact on the North Africa/Middle East region.

He says North Africa remains divided for two main reasons: (a) Libya has long been an obstacle to regional integration, and (b) the continuing hostility between Algeria and Morocco. Mr. Alterman says solving the Libya part of that equation will not directly address the Algeria/Morocco issue. He says it just means there’s a lot more work to be done to integrate North Africa, even if Libya comes on board.