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US Praises Libyan Disarmament Efforts - 2004-03-10

U.S. officials are praising the steps Libya has taken to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction, and are predicting the day will not be far off when the United States and Libya again have full diplomatic relations. But, there are also concerns that Libya is getting freedom from U.S. sanctions, while personal freedoms continue to be denied its citizens.

In U.S. congressional hearings Wednesday, U.S. officials said Libya has made good progress towards disarmament. Paula DeSutter, the Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance, said chemical munitions have been destroyed, and that a ship bearing 1,000 tons of weapons of mass destruction-related materials had left Tripoli.

“We can announce the complete dismantlement of Libya's nuclear weapons program, the complete dismantlement of Libya's longest range and most sophisticated missiles, and the elimination of their declared chemical munitions,” she said.

In December, Libya announced it is giving up all weapons of mass destruction and is renouncing support of international terrorism. The Bush administration responded by lifting the travel ban to Libya as an initial step. On Wednesday the International Atomic Energy Agency and Libya signed a protocol allowing surprise inspections of Libyan nuclear facilities.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns said U.S.-Libyan relations are on a path of gradual normalization.

Congressman Tom Lantos called on the United States to move further in re-establishing ties with Tripoli.

“In light of recent developments on Libyan nuclear and chemical weapons activity, it is now time for the United States to officially establish a diplomatic liaison office in its own building, with the American flag proudly displayed,” he said. “Based on recent developments, I'm convinced that the day that that office will be upgraded to embassy status is not far off.”

But notes of caution were also sounded. Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the non-governmental Washington Institute for Near East Policy, reminded the House International Relations Committee that the Libyan leader Muammar Gadahfi, is unpredictable.

“The major worry is whether Libya will follow through on its promise to give up weapons of mass destruction,” she said. “We cannot be sure what Libya will do because all decisions in Libya are made by one erratic man, Muammar Gadhafi. When Gadhafi's mood changes, Libya's policies can switch overnight.”

The U.S. officials said Libyan actions are being closely monitored to ensure it does not backslide on its pledge to disarm and renounce terrorism.

Krista Ridley of Amnesty International noted that internal political reforms in Libya have not kept pace with its newfound desire for international respectability. Previewing a soon-to-be-released report on a trip to Libya by Amnesty International staffers, Ms. Ridley said the delegation - which met with top Libyan officials, including Colonel Gadhafi - found that the Libyan leadership still ignores basic rights.

“They were particularly concerned to hear that the promotion of a direct democracy system continues to justify that those daring to express their ideas or form associations outside the basic Peoples' Conferences would be treated as criminals and could be sentenced to harsh sentences, including the death penalty,” she said. “Delegates were also extremely concerned that a new anti-terrorism policy be used to justify political imprisonment.”

The State Department's William Burns agreed that Libya needs to improve its human rights record.