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US, Britain, Libya to Hold Talks in London Friday - 2004-02-03

Officials from the United States, Britain and Libya will hold talks in London Friday on possible steps to reward Libya for its decision in December to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction programs. The State Department says the steps Libya has taken since then to implement that decision have "fundamentally changed" the relationship with the North African country.

The Bush administration is sending its top diplomat for the Middle East, Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, to the three-way meeting in London that the State Department says will include "a political dialogue on what lies ahead" in the relationship with Libya.

The decision to have political talks is the latest indication of rapid improvement in U.S.-Libyan ties, since the Moammar Gadhafi government's announcement December 19 that it was giving up a secret weapons of mass destruction program which had a nuclear component.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters the situation with Libya has "fundamentally changed" with steps it has taken to implement the December decision.

This included a U.S. airlift out of Libya last week of some 25 metric tons of weapons hardware including components of uranium-enrichment centrifuges and long-range missile guidance sets.

Mr. Boucher said President Bush has made clear that Libyan actions have opened the door to the possibility of better relations after a freeze of more than two decades, and that the United States is prepared to reciprocate for Libyan good faith.

"The United States has indicated that we do have flexibility," he said. "As Libya moves forward, we're able to move forward on some of the issues that Libya might be concerned about. So we'll look at the various aspects of our policy. As the president has said, as they demonstrate good faith, good faith will be returned."

Libya has faced a variety of U.S. sanctions since the Reagan administration in the early 1980s including penalties stemming from its presence on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Some of the sanctions, including the terrorism-related ones, are congressionally mandated and their removal would be a lengthy process.

But others can be lifted at the discretion of the Bush administration. A senior diplomat here said one that might be lifted soon is the long-standing ban on the use of U.S. passports for travel to Libya, which comes up for a State Department review later this month.

Libya's December 19 announcement scrapping its weapons programs capped several months of secret talks with U.S. and British officials.

Weapons experts from the two countries, and inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, were in Libya last month to supervise the dismantling process, including the U.S. airlift and the destruction of chemical weapons munitions.

Mr. Boucher said he expects a similar team to return to Libya soon to continue the work.