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Arab World Reacts Cautiously to US New Ambassador to Libya


The U.S. Senate approved the nomination of a new U.S. ambassador to Libya late Thursday, making it the first time in 36 years that the United States will have an ambassador in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Putting a U.S. ambassador in Libya marks the culmination of a long road towards diplomatic normalcy between the two nations, as Edward Yeranian reports from Cairo.

The Senate's confirmation of career diplomat Gene Cretz as the new U.S. ambassador to Libya culminates a long process of healing and a rapprochement between two nations.

Here in the Arab world, many observers are watching the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Libya, followed by the Senate approval of a new ambassador to Tripoli-the first in 36 years with caution and mixed feelings.

Hisham Youssef, who heads the Cabinet of Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, says that the League is pleased by the improving relations between the United States and Libya.

"We welcome advancing relations between Libya and the United States and on the basis of agreements that they have had in the last several months and advancing the relations is something that we look at in a very positive and constructive way," he said.

Youssef is, nevertheless, a bit skeptical about the importance of the U.S. move to confirm Cretz, due to a backdrop of tense relations between the outgoing Bush administration and the Arab world, in general.

"Well, improving relations with the whole of the Arab world requires much more than having an ambassador in Libya and this is why people are looking forward to the policies that will be adopted by the new [Obama] administration," he said.

Some critics of the move in the Arab world, like political analyst and columnist for Beirut's Daily Star newspaper Rami Khouri, also think that the Bush administration is improving relations with Libya for all the wrong reasons.

"I'm a little bit cynical about it," he said. "I think this deal that the Libyans and the Americans and the West made strikes me as incomplete because they gave up their nuclear industry in return for having normal relations. They paid a lot of money to compensate families of the victims of the bombings."

"But, Libya is still an autocratic place which is very tightly run and the West is very happy to have relations with it and make money from oil and contracts and stuff like that. So, I'm a bit critical of how the West would completely ignore the internal conditions and the nature of the regime, especially a regime that talks about promoting freedom and democracy as Bush has been. To do this kind of deal strikes me as materialistic expediency at its worst," he added.

Libyan leader, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi began to improve ties with Washington in 2003 after renouncing terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. That process came to a head this year, after Libya agreed on a plan to compensate families of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland and the 1986 bombing of the Berlin discoteque, La Belle, in which two US serviceman were killed, and dozens wounded.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, the son of the Libyan leader, Thursday, on the heels of the Senate approval of Cretz.