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Rice Meets Gadhafi Son, Raises Dissident Case

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Thursday with a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi in another sign of improving U.S.-Libyan relations. The State Department says Rice used the meeting to raise the issue of an imprisoned Libyan dissident. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Though Saif al-Islam Gadhafi holds no official government title, he is the first member of the longtime Libyan leader's immediate family to visit Washington. And he received treatment commensurate with that of a visiting high official, capped by the private meeting Thursday with Rice.

The younger Gadhafi, who heads a family charitable foundation and has been a diplomatic troubleshooter for his father, met Tuesday with White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch.

In a talk with reporters at the State Department after the meeting with Rice, Gadhafi said Hadley gave him a personal letter to convey to his father from President Bush.

He said the recent settlement of claims stemming from 1980s acts of terrorism attributed to Libya should lead to an exchange of full ambassadors and the opening of embassies in the respective capitals, action stalled by compensation issues.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the Rice-Gadhafi meeting covered a wide range of bilateral issues and that Rice, as she did in a Libya visit in September, raised the case of jailed democracy activist Fahti El-Jahmi, Libya's best-known political dissident.

"This case is an issue of concern," he said. "We urge this person's release. The Secretary did that today. David Welch has done it this week, and she and others have consistently raised the case, as they do in countries around the world where we have human rights concerns, and we have an on-going bilateral relationship. That's how the business of diplomacy works."

El-Jahmi, whose case has been championed by U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden, has been imprisoned almost continuously since 2002, after advocating for Libyan political reform and press freedom in interviews with foreign reporters.

In a commentary in Thursday's Washington Post, Mohamed El-Jahmi, the brother of the 67-year-old dissident, said Fahti El-Jahmi is in poor health, being held in inhumane conditions, and has been the subject of death threats from Libyan authorities.

Mohamed El-Jahmi said the United States, despite its rapprochement with Libya, has failed to consistently push for meaningful reform in that country, and that dissidents continue to disappear and be terrorized by death squads organized by leader Gadhafi's Revolutionary Committees.

State Department Spokesman McCormack said earlier this week that Libya still has a "long, long way to go" in terms of domestic freedoms, but that the Bush administration has decided in the case of the North African country that dialogue is the best way to bring about change.

In an unprecedented move, President Bush on Monday telephoned Muammar Gadhafi to express satisfaction over the compensation accord, under which Libya late last month paid $1.5 billion to families of victims of acts of terrorism for which Libya accepted responsibility.

The two countries have nominally had full diplomatic relations since 2006, but claims issues have blocked Senate confirmation of a U.S. ambassador to Tripoli and funds for a new embassy there.