Why US Restored Ties with Libya ; Security Issues Figured in the US Announcement Monday That It Was Resuming Full Diplomatic Relations

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For the Bush administration, awarding Libya this week with restoration of full diplomatic relations should be a lesson to Iran and North Korea. Give up your nuclear weapons programs just as Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi did, administration officials argue, and you too can reap the benefits of political and economic ties with the United States.

But for some experts in the Middle East and nonproliferation diplomacy, including some who worked on the Libya case, the lesson may be just as much for the US: It is direct talks and security assurances that underlie Libya's transformation from a rogue proliferator and purveyor of international terrorism, they say, not primarily a threat of force.

"Direct talks were crucial in getting Libya to change its ways, because that's how Qaddafi became convinced that if he did policy change, we would not do regime change," says Bruce Jentleson, who was a State Department official in the Clinton administration when secret talks were initiated with Libya. "The lesson here is that while it's useful to have force as a backdrop, this is really a story of serious diplomacy's success."

The US announced Monday that it was restoring full diplomatic relations with Libya, a process that began in 2003 when Mr. Qaddafi agreed to give up his country's aspirations for weapons of mass destruction, including its nuclear and chemical weapons programs. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also said Libya would be removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

"Just as 2003 marked a turning point for the Libyan people, so too could 2006 mark turning points for the people of Iran and North Korea," Ms. Rice said in making the announcement.

The long-anticipated US announcement was interpreted in some quarters of the Middle East as the US backtracking on the region's democratization, or that the US is putting access to oil fields first in a period of deepening energy insecurity.

Libyan dissidents say they fear Qaddafi will use his new status as a partner of the US to further consolidate his political power at home and tamp down any groundswells for political reform.

"What Arabs and Muslim people around the world will take from this is that the Bush administration is not genuine about the priority to spread democracy," says Fawaz Gerges, an expert at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N. …