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Head of US Congressional Delegation Thinks Relations Can be Restored with Libya This Year - 2004-03-01

The leader of a U.S. congressional delegation visiting Libya says he thinks full diplomatic relations between Washington and Tripoli will be restored by the end of this year. Congressman Curt Weldon says the group is on a people-to-people mission to enhance understanding between the two countries.

Mr. Weldon is visiting Libya for the second time this year and he and his six colleagues have been invited to address the Libyan People's Congress, which acts as the country's parliament, on Tuesday in the town of Sirte.

The Pennsylvanian Republican said the purpose of his latest mission is to build on, what he calls, the positive words and deeds of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who after decades of animosity between the two countries is seeking to build bridges to the United States. "We are not here to negotiate. We are not here to do anything on behalf of the White House. We are here to re-enforce what has already been done," he said.

Mr. Weldon's Democratic counterpart, representative Solomon Ortiz of Texas, said he and the other legislators are stressing the need for Americans to get to know and understand what Libyans want as the two countries gradually increase their ties. "What we have to do first is to get to know each other better and this is why we're here. I think that these people are hungry for a relationship with the United States," he said.

Since Libya gave up its quest for nuclear weapons and allowed U.S., British and U.N. inspectors to dismantle its program, the Bush administration has lifted a ban on Americans traveling to Libya. It also advised American oil companies that they could begin to plan their return to Libya after an 18 year absence and it invited Libya to open an interest section, one step below a full embassy, in Washington.

Congressman Weldon, who is a prominent member of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, says the prime objective of U.S. policy toward Libya should be to show Libya that its continued cooperation with the weapons inspectors will lead to American support for a fresh relationship. "We have a door that has been opened by Colonel Gadhafi and the leadership of Libya to dismantle these weapons and to bring them out and we have already done that and it has been extremely positive. So we want to continue on that path," he said.

Mr. Weldon says that as the two countries develop a new relationship, such issues as human rights and free and fair elections in Libya will be brought up in a bilateral dialogue. But he says the main issue now is to bring Libya back into the international community through arms control agreements.