Libya: Looking toward a Post-Lockerbie Future; Getting to Know the Colonel; Libya's Leader Muammar Al-Qaddafi

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Libya: Looking Toward a Post-Lockerbie Future; Getting to Know the Colonel; Libya's Leader Muammar Al-Qaddafi

Andrew I. Killgore is the publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

"We were made to be enemies of Israel."--Col. Muammar Al-Qaddafi, Nov. 13, 2000

marked: "Being an object of attack, suspicion or vengeance"--Webster's Ninth Collegiate Dictionary

"Flee, flee the city and get away from the smoke....Flee from the lethargy and waste, the poison and boredom and yawning. Flee from the nightmare city."--Muammar Al-Qaddafi, "The Village," in Escape to Hell and Other Stories.

When the Washington Report called on Libyan leader Col. Muammar Al-Qaddafi in Tripoli on Nov. 13 he carefully placed an alarm clock on a small table by his side. Two or three moments later he moved it slightly, to a position exactly to his liking, and very obviously to let us know that our time with him would be limited. We suspected that his previous encounters with American journalists had made him impatient with adversarial interviews.

The Libyan leader did not walk with a cane, nor did he limp. Dressed carefully in loafers, shirt and slacks, Qaddafi looked healthy, but tired.

Although we were there to interview Colonel Qaddafi, it was he who posed the first question: "How come," he inquired rhetorically, "a country that calls itself a democracy does not allow its citizens to travel wherever they like?" He seemed somewhat surprised by our nonrhetorical reply that the U.S. State Department was being run by officials who made it a priority to look out for the interests of Israel. It was not an answer he expected from Americans.

When we asked about the effect on his country of recently suspended U.N. and continuing U.S. sanctions, it was clear that the Libyan leader reflected his people's pride. "Although of course we have suffered," he said, "we have been able to bear this injustice. We were not brought to our knees, and things are improving now. The Great Man-Made River Project is progressing well, and we are not extravagant in using our oil supplies."

Asked if Libya planned, as we had heard, to increase its oil-production capacity to two million barrels a day, Qaddafi replied with an edge, "Why should we increase production? Prices are high now, so we should cut production. We will act as a bloc with OPEC."

Regarding the Middle East peace process, the colonel said he favored the South African model as a solution to the Palestinian problem, a proposal which had been presented at the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit. Failing such a solution, Qaddafi predicted continued fighting. Comparing the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and Kurds to that of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, he asked why the U.S. didn't respond to Israel and Turkey as it had to Yugoslavia.

Although he responded politely and patiently to our questions, it was when we asked what he would like to say to the American people that the meeting came alive. The Libyan leader pushed the clock aside, and his words poured out.

"We don't hate Americans," Qaddafi began. "After all, America as a country includes people from all over the world. How can we hate a people when our own people, our sons and daughters, may become Americans?

"We are against the Zionist and imperialist circles which exploit America's strength and use it against the world," he said. "Wake up, America! What benefit does the U.S. get from Israel?

"The Arabs and Muslims are a thousand times stronger than Israel," Qaddafi continued. "Israel is only your `ally' on the surface. Underneath you are in conflict. Why? Because the Zionist project wants to dominate and use the U.S. for the sake of Israel.

"We were made to be enemies of Israel," the Libyan leader insisted. "We have been given a false image. We are not the `terrorists' that we have been labeled. The U.N. [sanctions] have deprived us of the very basics, while we are [falsely] charged with looking for space-age technology. …