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British Officials Defend Blair's Planned Libya Visit - 2004-03-24


British Prime Minister Tony Blair is defending his decision to visit Libya from criticism by his political opponents.

Mr. Blair is under fire from opposition Conservative Party officials, who say he should not meet Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi until Libya has made amends for all of its past terrorist activity.

The prime minister brushed aside the criticism at a news conference in Lisbon, a day before his visit to Tripoli. "Let us offer to states that want to renounce terrorism and the development of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons our hand in partnership to achieve it, as Libya has rightly and courageously decided to do," he said. "That does not mean forgetting the pain of the past. But it does mean recognizing change when it happens."

Earlier, the foreign affairs spokesman of the Conservative Party, Michael Ancram, took to the floor of parliament to say now is not the time for Mr. Blair to meet Colonel Gadhafi. "There are some very serious unresolved questions," said Michael Ancram. "Until those are actually resolved I think a blanket endorsement is actually not called for."

He said those issues include the 1984 shooting of a British policewoman outside the Libyan Embassy in London, allegations of Libyan gun-running to the Irish Republican Army, and Libyan support for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Also, Mr. Ancram said the visit could upset relatives of people killed in the 1988 bombing of a U.S. jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, for which Libya has agreed to pay damages.

During his visit to Libya, Mr. Blair is expected to offer training in Britain for the Libyan army. British officials say the trip also could produce some business deals, including aircraft sales by defense contractor BAE Systems and natural-gas drilling rights for Royal Dutch Shell.