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EU Launches Closer Ties with Libya

The European Union is launching its first agreement with Libya to establish closer political, social and economic ties. From Paris, Lisa Bryant reports for VOA the announcement marks another step toward normalizing western relations with the North African nation.

The European Commission said Thursday's talks would take place between its external relations commissioner Benito Ferrero Waldner and representatives of the European Union's French presidency and high-level Libyan officials. In remarks to the press, Ferrero-Waldner said the 27-member block wants to establish a clear and long-lasting framework with Libya to strengthen dialogue and cooperation.

Libya once was considered a pariah in the international community for supporting terrorism and because of the plight of foreign medical staff held in Libyan jails on claims they had infected children with the AIDS virus. But the foreigners were released last year, Libya has renounced terrorism and Tripoli has begun to return to the international fold.

The United States has also begun to normalize relations with Libya. Libyan compensation payments to families of the 1988 Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland mark the last hurdle in the process.

Libya is the only Mediterranean country without official E.U. relations. But the two sides have moved closer with a new euro-Mediterranean partnership agreement launched last July that includes Tripoli.

Earlier this year, Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner outlined the importance of stronger bonds between the two regions.

"The potential of E.U.-Libyan relations is quite a high one. It is high on the political dialogue, it is high on trade and energy and on such delicate issues like migration," he said.

Ferrero-Waldner noted Libya is an important oil exporter and the European Union is interested in a stable supply of energy. It is also an important transit rout for would-be African immigrants headed to Europe - and the bloc wants to crack down on illegal immigration. The Euorpean Union has said negotiations with Libya would also address human-rights concerns.