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Blair Arrives in Libya - 2004-03-25

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has arrived in Libya for the first visit by a British leader to the North African country in decades.

British officials say Mr. Blair's visit to meet with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in a tent on the outskirts of Tripoli is considered a reward for Mr. Gadhafi's decision in December to dismantle Libya's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.

Mr. Blair has called on the international community to welcome back countries that renounce terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. He says Libya's decision deserves recognition, and the international community should help Tripoli rid itself of banned weapons.

Members of Britain's Conservative Party have criticized Mr. Blair's decision to meet with the Libyan leader because they say Mr. Gadhafi has not yet made amends for his country's past terrorist activity. But Prime Minister Blair says offering help does not mean forgetting the past.

British officials say Mr. Blair's visit is part of a coordinated effort by Britain and the United States to show Libya the rewards of cooperating with international institutions.

On Tuesday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns held talks in Tripoli with Mr. Gadhafi during the first high-level U.S. visit to Libya in decades. Officials say Mr. Burns gave the Libyan leader a letter from President Bush on further steps toward improving relations.

The prime ministers of Italy and Spain have also met with Colonel Gadhafi in recent months.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.