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Italian PM Visits Gadhafi in Libya

The Italian prime minister on Tuesday became the first Western head of state to meet with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi since Libya announced plans to abandon all its weapons of mass destruction programs in December. The Italian leader says he will deliver a plan from Libya to Washington on how to improve relations.

After meeting in Mr. Gadhafi's hometown in Libya, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said Mr. Gadhafi gave him proposals to take to President George Bush, proposals that contain the Libyan leader's ideas on how to bring the two countries closer together.

Also on Tuesday, as part of Libya's increased efforts to improve relations with the West, Libyan foreign minister Abdel Rahman Shalgham made a landmark visit to London, where he met with the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw. British officials said Mr. Shalgham's visit was the first by a high-ranking Libyan leader in over 20 years.

During that visit, Mr. Shalgham handed the British secretary a letter from Mr. Gadhafi, inviting British Prime Minister Tony Blair to have talks. Mr. Blair agreed.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Shalgham reaffirmed Libya's new position on disarmament. He said Libya bans weapons of mass destruction and is calling on the rest of the world to get rid of them.

In his recent state of the union address, President Bush implied that that the U.S.-led war on Iraq played a role in encouraging Libya to abandon its weapons programs, an allegation that Libyan officials have denied.

Political analyst Mohamed Abdel Salam, a nuclear expert at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic studies in Cairo, says Libya has been taking steps to disarm for the past several years, but is moving faster now for its own political reasons. Mr. Salam says the Gadhafi's regime wants to be able to stay in power, as well as create strategic and economic ties with the West.

The Libyan leadership is seeking to end U.S. and international economic sanctions that have been in place since the mid-1980s, when Libya was blamed for supporting acts of terrorism, including the 1988 bombing of a plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 280 people.

Libya has accepted responsibility for the disaster and last year struck a deal to compensate victims' families.

Earlier Tuesday, U.S. officials confirmed that an American diplomat is in Libya for the first time in decades, working to assist in dismantling Libya's weapons of mass destruction programs.