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Books on Libya

Update No: 058 - (03/09/08)

A Very Special September
In spite of the embarrassment that has inevitably fallen upon the Libyan leadership over the arrest of Hanibal Qadhafi in Switzerland and the even more embarrassing official response in Tripoli, marked by a diplomatic incident with Switzerland, The Libyan leader has much to celebrate in September – an important month as it marks the anniversary of his ‘Fatah’ revolution (September 1st, 1969). 

The Main Event
Having settled the final details of a compensation agreement for the relatives of the Lockerbie crash victims, Condoleezza Rice had no more excuses to delay a visit to Libya, which is perhaps the one partial foreign policy success, for both terms, that the Bush administration can claim, seeing as the various ‘multicolor revolutions’ in the Black Sea region are starting to show their significant weaknesses…

There can be no doubt that Rice’s visit will be historic. The very fact that she will be the first US secretary of state to travel to Libya in over 25 years is memorable enough – it may also be somewhat inconvenient for US and Libyan diplomats alike, as Muslims will be fasting on the occasion of Ramadan. The last US secretary of state to visit Libya was John Dulles in 1953, when Libya was but a five year old monarchy ruled by king Idriss. Several news agencies report that the visit would take place around the end of the first week of September. Should the visit actually take place, it would serve as the culmination=2 0of the entire diplomatic process that began in December 2003, when Libya announced that it would renounce its weapons of mass destruction program. 

The major steps in the process include the removal of Libya from the US state department’s list of states sponsoring terrorism in 2006 and the nomination of ambassadors, though the respective embassies in Washington and Tripoli are not yet fully operational. A visit was expected after the release of the Bulgarian medics in 2007, but the Lockerbie compensation issue had not been resolved yet. Last August 14th., after many tribulations, the deputy secretary of state for the Middle East, David Welch, visited Tripoli and signed the final accord to compensate the Lockerbie victims, ending the saga and removing any potential ‘political’ obstacle to Rice’s visit. The deal effectively terminates any further Libyan liability in the Lockerbie case and opens the road to closer ties and much greater US involvement in Libya – to what extent and whether this will include some semblance of the proposed African defense command center (AFRICOM), remains to be seen. 

Congress unanimously adopted the Libyan Claims Resolution20Act, sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, (D) of New Jersey ending the dispute with Libya, through the establishment of a fund to pay the survivors of the Lockerbie victims. That said, while the legal dispute may be coming to an agreeable conclusion in the United States, the Lockerbie controversy has not ended and may still hit at future problems in Libya’s relationship to the United States. Seif al-Islam criticized the victims’ families for their interest in ‘money’, while insisting that Libya has been unjustly and incorrectly blamed for Lockerbie, advising the families to “work with Tripoli to find the real criminal behind that attack". Seif al-Islam noted that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, the former Libyan intelligence officer convicted of the bombing, was not responsible. In fact, the case against Libyan involvement in Lockerbie is still mired in controversy, and a former Lockerbie police sergeant has raised his own suspicions. 

In June 2007, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which investigated the Lockerbie case, hinted that one of the two Libyan agents tried by a Scottish cour t convening in the Netherlands “could have suffered a miscarriage of justice and recommended that he should be granted a second appeal.” In fact, al-Megrahi’s appeal is expected to be heard in early 2009 according to the BBC. Moreover, some of the relatives of Lockerbie victims themselves believe they have yet to hear the truth about Lockerbie. One man who lost a son in the fateful Pan Am 103 told the BBC: “the truth has not come out. I think the investigation found what it was told to find.” While it is highly doubtful that Libya would ever return to its ‘old ways’ – the world context is very different now – should further questions arise about the validity of the Pan Am 103 trial it would generate complications in Libya’s relations with the United States. Seif ul-Islam Qadhafi, who has clearly denied Libya’s involvement, meanwhile, has long been designated as the potential successor to Colonel Qadhafi. 

In the past two years, Seif ul-Islam has been an active player in Libya’s politics, working to assert his position as the potential successor. Lacking an official title, Seif-ul Islam has virtually replaced his 66-year-old father in a number of highly visible political and diplomatic events. Libya’s political succession has been the object of much speculation in regional and Western capitals, but also within Libya proper. Its details are important, in particular since Libya has not had a formal constitution since the late 1960s. And a succession without clear guidelines could spell trouble [as noted in several Newnations Libya updates]. Yet, Seif ul-Islam, in typical Jamahiriya mystery mode, announced that he would be retiring from politics, after delivering a speech in Sebha urging institutional reforms in Libya. Of course, nothing should be taken at face value concerning the delicate topic of succession in a state such as Libya. Seif’s motivations and statements concerning his political future are vague, and hint the very opposite - marked as they are with pointed remarks over the need to “strengthen civil society”, create “independent media” and to promote a “new constitution”. Perhaps, Seif’s denial is in fact a confirmation. Certainly, the announcement fuels the speculation, but it would be premature for the time being to take his announcement at face value. 

Russia as a Catalyst
Meanwhile, if Libya needs the visit to consolidate the hard diplomatic work of the past four years, securing its international respectability (it already enjoys full diplomatic relations with the EU and Russia), the United States want to use Libya as the example of the reformed ‘enfant terrible’, using it as leverage to secure concessions from Iran and North Korea by demonstrating the advantages of renouncing their nuclear programs. The current administration also wants to leave something for the Republican presidential candidate John McCain to brag about. 

Libya is being touted by the administration as an example of the kind of ‘successes’ that have been possible to achieve as a result of the Iraq war, which showed Middle Eastern dictators they could no longer ‘get away’ with their defiance. It is very likely that the US secretary of20state shall hold direct talks with Col. Qadhafi himself, possibly paving the way for a corresponding visit by an important Libyan figure to Washington before the end of the Bush-Cheney mandate next January. Nevertheless, apart from duly important diplomatic symbolism, Condoleezza Rice may be pressed to visit Tripoli in the very short term because of Russia. 

Last April, Vladimir Putin, still in his capacity as president, was received at Qadhafi’s Bab al-Aziziya fortress in Tripoli with full state honors. Putin visited Libya to consolidate important agreements including a plan to extend Gazprom’s gas interests in the Mediterranean, while Libya wants to buy advanced weapons from Russia. Libya is also pursuing the idea of launching a civilian nuclear energy program with Russian help. The talks over Lockerbie compensation had stagnated and after Putin’s visit, procedures to finally remove all obstacles to the full normalization of relations between Libya and the USA were accelerated. Of more immediate concern is how Libya has taken advantage of the Russo-Georgian crisis to secure full normalization. Libya has backed Russia in the UN Security Council over the conflict with Georgia. 

In a widely publicized interview given to Russia’s Kommersant paper, Seif ul-Islam al-Qadhafi said that the Arab world, not just Libya, backed Russia. The Libyan leader’s heir apparent (or not, see above) suggested that Arabs “are mad at Georgia because it sent its troops to Iraq and took part in the occupation of that Arab land….We understand that it wouldn’t have happened without Russia. If it weren’t for Russia, Georgian forces would still be in Iraq”. Libya also views the resurgence of Russia as a major power as beneficial, because it restores the power balance and gives it additional cards to play in its relations with the United States. Russia is less discriminatory as to which countries it will assist with armaments. Libya is interested in new helicopters, fighter jets, tanks and SAM missiles. A renewed, if different, bi-polarism would allow small regional powers to play off the superpowers against each other, to win diplomatic and procurement concessions.      

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