Libyan official frustrated at pace of renewed ties with US

WASHINGTON — Libya’s top diplomat in Washington on Friday expressed frustration at the pace of renewed relations with the United States following the restoration of diplomatic ties.

“What we have gotten until today is not really what we expect,” Ali Aujali, Libya’s charge d’affaires, said at a conference in Washington on US-Libya relations.

He said his government was disappointed that it still suffered from sanctions and urged Washington to speed the process of issuing visas to Libyans.

“I hope Libya will be treated as a special case,” Aujali said.

The US government on May 15 said it was restoring full diplomatic ties with Tripoli in light of Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi decision in 2003 to abandon his weapons of mass destruction programme.

The US embassy opened in Tripoli on May 31 in a quiet ceremony, and both countries are planning to appoint ambassadors in the near future.

However, the complete normalisation of ties could be hampered by compensation Libya owes to families of victims of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland. Of the 270 people killed, 189 were American.

In 2002 Libya agreed to pay each family $10 million. It has already paid eight million of that amount but withheld payment of the remaining two million on legal grounds.

A US congressional appropriations committee this week approved legislation that would prevent full diplomatic ties with Libya until all the compensation is paid.

Aujali said Libyan legal experts were currently in the United States to try and work out a deal with the families.

“We had thought the issue of Lockerbie was over,” he said.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch said he expected the matter to be resolved amicably.

“I am confident that there will be redress,” he said.

Welch said he was also confident that by June 29 — which marks the end of the mandatory 45-day notification period to Congress on the restoration of full diplomatic ties — Libya will be removed from the US list of states that sponsor terrorism.

He said Tripoli has fulfilled the two requirements to be taken off the list, by not supporting terrorist acts and providing assurances that it would not do so in the future.

“I think what we have been able to do with Libya can be used to encourage changes in policy by other countries such as Iran and North Korea,” Welch said. He added, however, that Washington would continue to press Libya on a number of issues, including human rights and the case of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor charged with infecting children with the AIDS virus.

“The May 15 announcement does not absolve Libya for past actions nor does it mean that Libya is being given a pass on behaving like a responsible member of the international community,” said Welch, who plans to visit Libya next month.

Diplomatic ties between Washington and Tripoli were broken in 1981 after the US embassy was sacked by radical student demonstrators.

A year later the US imposed sanctions on the import of Libyan oil and the export of high-technology equipment and in 1986 extended the sanctions to include a ban on all US commercial transactions.

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