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British Minister Visits Libya, Seeking Cooperation in War on Terrorism - 2002-08-07

For the first time in nearly 20 years, a British minister is visiting Libya for talks with key government officials including Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi.

British foreign office minister Mike O'Brien said Wednesday his visit with Muammar Gadhafi is to seek the Libyan leader's cooperation in curbing terrorism and halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

The talks represent a cautious re-engagement after years of hostility. Britain cut off diplomatic ties with Libya after a policewoman was shot to death in 1984, outside the Libyan embassy in London. The shot was believed to have come from inside the embassy.

Relations got worse after the terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, which killed 270 people.

Diplomatic ties were restored in 1999, after Libya handed over two Lockerbie bombing suspects. One of them, a Libyan secret agent, is now serving a life sentence in a Scottish prison for the bombing.

Mohammed Kamal is a political analyst in Cairo who thinks the re-engagement between Britain and Libya may be the result of political and economic factors. "Economic reasons are oil firms in Britain are interested in doing business in Libya. They are interested in making money. So there is an economic incentive behind this engagement," he explained. "I would say there are also political reasons, because Libya of the 1970s and 1980s has changed. Libya has a different foreign policy today. I don't think Libya is no longer sponsoring terrorism. I don't think it's providing support to the Irish Republican Army as it used to be. I would say there is a change in its foreign policy which probably provided incentives for the British government to reconsider its policy toward Libya."

Following meetings Tuesday with Libya's deputy foreign minister, Saad Mujber, a British source was quoted as saying Libya had given a strong commitment to supporting the U.S.-led fight against Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network, which Washington blames for the September 11 attacks in the United States.

It was reported Mr. Mujber said Libya was ready to sign a global protocol on chemical weapons, which would allow for international inspections.

While the United States remains skeptical of Mr. Gadhafi and believes he may be in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, it has been reported Washington did not complain about the British minister's visit to Libya.

The British minister has said Britain believes Muammar Gadhafi no longer wants to be involved in international terrorism.