Documents shed light on Gaddafi lobbying

August 31, 2011

Top aides to Moammar Gaddafi met with a former high-ranking U.S. diplomat in the regime’s final weeks as the Libyan leader mounted a last-ditch effort to undermine the rebel movement and weaken American support for the campaign to oust him, newly disclosed documents show.

Advisers to Gaddafi secured a meeting in early August with a former high-ranking State Department official, who allegedly offered advice on how Gaddafi could improve his standing with the West as he sought an end to the conflict, according to papers unearthed from the ransacked headquarters of Libya’s intelligence agency.

Gaddafi’s aides separately tried to enlist the help of a U.S. congressman in a plan to discredit the rebel movement, the documents show. There is no evidence in the papers that the effort advanced beyond the planning stage.

The documents, discovered by an al-Jazeera reporter and posted Wednesday on the news organization’s Web site, appear to shed light on Gaddafi’s behind-the-scenes efforts to divide the West. Since the start of the Libyan uprising in February, Gaddafi aides repeatedly have sought to exploit ties with Western officials to gain advantage or even explore prospects for defecting.

One document posted by al-Jazeera purports to be minutes of an Aug. 2 meeting in Cairo between two Gaddafi aides and David Welch, the State Department’s top diplomat for the Middle East during the George W. Bush administration.

The minutes — the authenticity of which could not be independently confirmed — were written in Arabic and accompanied by an English translation. Efforts to reach Welch for comment through his employer, Bechtel Corp., were not successful.

Welch, whose career included negotiating a 2008 U.S.-Libya accord that led to Libyan compensation for American victims of terrorist acts, was quoted as warning the Libyans “as an informed friend” that the conflict had reached a critical stage that required “seriousness and responsibility.” Welch reportedly suggested that Gaddafi improve his chances by providing Western intelligence agencies with details about al-Qaeda in eastern Libya and by helping to secure missiles to prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists.

But he also is quoted as advising the Libyans to call attention to the West’s “double-standard” in its varied response to repression in Libya and Syria. Gaddafi “would lose nothing from exploiting the situation there in order to embarrass the West,” the document quoted him as saying.

The State Department said that Welch’s travel to Cairo was a private affair and that the former diplomat did not speak for the government.

Joby Warrick joined the Post’s national staff in 1996. He has covered national security, intelligence and the Middle East, and currently writes about the environment.
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