By Benyoussef, Asma
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs , Vol. XIX, No. 3
STATE DEPARTMENT PERMITS TRAVEL OF LIBYAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.
After two decades of frozen diplomatic relations between the United States and Libya, the U.S. State Department granted permission to Libya's permanent representative to the U.N., Ambassador Abuzed Dorda, to travel to Washington, DC in February to attend the U.N.-hosted National Summit on Africa. The significance of the event cannot be overemphasized. It seemingly represents a break with the policy of "no talk" with what the U.S. has consistently labeled a "rogue state."
Since the 1980s, the U.S. has imposed economic sanctions coupled with a ban on travel to Libya by U.S. citizens. In 1986, after an explosion in a Berlin nightclub frequented by U.S. military personnel in which two U.S. soldiers and a Turkish woman died, President Ronald Reagan ordered U.S. bombing raids on Libya which targeted the living quarters of Libya's leader, Muammar Qaddafi. While Qaddafi accused the U.S. of violating its own law banning attempts to assassinate foreign political leaders, Washington in turn accused the Qaddafi regime of creating impediments to a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute and of threatening international security by harboring and funding international terrorist groups.
Tension between the two countries intensified after 1988 as a result of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in which 270 persons, including many Americans, perished. The tragedy became the focal point of confrontation between the two states. For its part, Libya refused to hand over two Libyan intelligence officers accused by the U.S. of implementing the terrorist attack, while the U.S. insisted that international isolation of Libya continue until the two suspects were surrendered by their government for trial.
Finally, after years of claiming that Libya's constitution prevents its government from extradieting Libyan nationals to a foreign entity, Qaddafi agreed last year to hand over the two Libyans for trial under Scottish law in The Hague by the International Court of Justice. Although the trial will not begin until May, Libya meanwhile seems to be moving purposefully to cement closer relations with the West, and particularly with the U.S.
Although the travel authorization for Ambassador Dorda was for the purpose of representing Libya at the Africa summit, he wasted no opportunity to make the case for resumption of diplomatic ties at three additional speaking engagements in the U.S. national capital. He spoke at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Georgetown University, and the Middle East Institute. "Normalization of relations is in the benefit of the two countries and their people, he told one of the audiences. "In fact, we [Libyans] wish to open a new page of cooperation." He also assured representatives of American businesses of the safety and security of their operations and personnel in Libya.
Despite Libya's apparent eagerness to put its relations with the U.S. on a new track, serious obstacles remain, at least pending the outcome of the trial in The Hague. The opposition comes from three main groups: 1) families of Pan Am Flight 103 victims who have become a well-organized pressure group; 2) members of the Libyan-American community, many of whom have relatives imprisoned or missing in Libya; 3) friends of Israel aware that Qaddafi's Libya has been a leader and major source of funds for the Arab "rejectionist" camp for the past 30 years. …