The U.S. State Department has appointed an ambassador to Libya for the first time in 36 years, further normalizing relations between the two countries.

In a statement released Friday, U.S. officials said the appointment of career diplomat Gene Cretz ensures that U.S. interests are well represented in Libya during a very important period in the history of the countries' relationship.  

The U.S. Senate confirmed Cretz as ambassador last week, and officials say he will be sworn into his position on December 17th.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on the same day as the Senate confirmation of Cretz.

The appointment comes a month after Libya paid $1.5 billion into a fund for families of the victims of the Libyan-backed terrorist attacks, including the 1988 downing of a U.S. airliner over Scotland, and the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco.