First Published: 2008-09-06

Rice meets Gathafi on historic Libya visit

Gathafi gives Rice lute instrument as she presents Libyan leader with coat of arms shield.


Middle East Online

Rice: ‘the US and Libya found a way forward’

TRIPOLI - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held a landmark meeting with Libyan leader Moamer Gathafi to seal a reconciliation with the former US enemy.

Rice said Saturday before leaving that the United States and Libya had decided "to move forward in a positive way" and deal "as well as we can with issues of the past."

The first US secretary of state to visit Tripoli in 55 years exchanged gifts with Gathafi -- he gave her a lute instrument and she presented a shield with the department's coat of arms.

Rice declared: "After many, many years it is a good thing that the US and Libya found a way forward." She praised some "strategic choices" made by Libya.

"This is a good time for a constructive relationship between the US and Libya to emerge," Rice said.

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelrahman Mohammed Shalgam said the world has change and Rice's groundbreaking visit to Libya was proof of the new mood.

"The time of confrontation is over. There may still be differences of opinion but this will not endanger the relationship."

Rice earlier described her brief visit as "historic".

"That is not to say that everything has by any means been settled between the United States and Libya. There is a long way to go," she told reporters travelling with her.

"But I do believe that it has demonstrated that the United States doesn't have permanent enemies. It demonstrates that when countries are prepared to make strategic changes in direction the United States is prepared to respond."

Rice met Gathafi at his Tripoli residence, Bab al Azizia, which was hit in US bombing raids ordered by Reagan in 1986.

After talks they shared an Iftar meal which breaks the fast during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Rice's visit comes less than a month after the two governments reached an agreement on a plan to compensate US victims of attacks blamed on Libya and Libyan victims of US attacks.

Both sides acknowledged they have differences.

US-Libya ties were suspended in 1981 when Washington put Gathafi's regime on its list of state sponsors of terrorism. It was forced even further into isolation after the bombing of a US airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

The White House said Rice's visit marked a "new chapter" and that cooperation could expand in education and culture, commerce, science and technology, and security.

The last US secretary of state to visit was John Foster Dulles in 1953, who met King Idris -- the ruler ousted in a bloodless military coup led in 1969 by Gathafi.

Last year, Gathafi proclaimed his love for "Leezza," telling Al-Jazeera television: "I support my darling black African woman. I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders."

Gathafi's December 2003 announcement that he was giving up weapons programmes followed secret talks with the United States and Britain.

Rice moved on to Tunisia, a strong US military ally with whom it is trying to negotiate a free trade deal. She will go from there to Algeria and Morocco.


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