The United States has taken another step in restoring normal diplomatic relations with Libya, as President George W. Bush nominated a US ambassador to the once-outcast nation.The nomination must be confirmed by the Senate, where some lawmakers are pushing the administration to make Libya do more to account for past misdeeds.
The White House announced Wednesday that Gene Cretz, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Tel Aviv, is Bush’s pick for the post.
Before serving in Tel Aviv, Cretz served as deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Damascus. Earlier in his career, he served as minister counsellor of economic and political affairs at the US embassy in Cairo.
The nomination continues a process that began when Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi surprised the world by agreeing to dismantle his country’s weapons of mass destruction programmes. The United States had not had formal diplomat relations with Tripoli since 1980, although a thaw in hostilities enabled Washington to open a diplomatic office in Libya in 2004.
Libya was held responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, which claimed 270 lives, most of them American. Qadhafi later agreed to pay $2.7 billion in reparations to the victims’ families.
Several senators are pressing the Bush administration to demand action from Qadhafi on unresolved compensation for the Lockerbie bombing. They also want the administration to push for a complete Libyan accounting for a 1986 Berlin disco bombing that killed two US troops.
Unless the cases are settled, the senators said Congress may balk at State Department requests for money for a new US embassy in Tripoli, aid for Libya and Senate confirmation of the new ambassador.
“Until Libya fully compensates the Pan Am families, no US ambassador should set foot in Tripoli,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat. “We’re serious about improving relations, but Libya needs to show that it is, too. Paying off this long-overdue debt would be a start.” After Qadhafi came to power in a 1969 coup, Libya turned against the West. Throughout the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, Libya was regarded as a pariah in Washington’s view, designated a state sponsor of terrorism, the target of US air strikes in 1986 and subject to penalties barring American companies from doing business there.
The Bush administration said in May 2006 that it was resuming regular diplomatic relations with Libya for the first time in more than a quarter-century after removing Qadhafi’s regime from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Bush’s announcement came on the same day that Libya’s supreme court upheld the death sentences of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor convicted of infecting more than 400 children with the AIDS virus. The six, who have been in Libyan custody since 1999, have said they are innocent.
Libyan court officials said they admitted infecting the children, but some of the nurses have since said they confessed under beatings and torture. Bush had asked Libya to free the medics.