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Rice and Gaddafi Hammer at Wall Built by Decades of Animosity

Moammar Gaddafi, right, hosts Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Tripoli. It was a landmark diplomatic moment.
Moammar Gaddafi, right, hosts Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Tripoli. It was a landmark diplomatic moment. (By Nasser Nasser -- Associated Press)

"We have made progress in concrete ways. . . . We're off to a good start," Rice told reporters after her approximately two hours with the Libyan leader.

Though diplomatic relations between the two countries were restored in 2006, true rapprochement was slowed by litigation stemming from Libya's past involvement in terrorism. Last month, the last remaining hurdle preventing Rice's visit was cleared when the United States and Libya agreed to settle all outstanding terrorism-related litigation, including claims resulting from the 1986 bombing of the La Belle disco frequented by U.S. military personnel in Berlin. The deal also settled Libyan claims for 40 deaths -- including an adopted child of Gaddafi's -- caused by a U.S. bombing raid over Tripoli in retaliation for the disco deaths.

Some of the families of Flight 103 victims criticize the warming of ties with Libya. Rice said the State Department had been in "constant contact" with victims' families. "We very much think we have tried to take into consideration, as we moved this relationship forward, the concerns of these victims," she said. "I understand that no amount of money can bring people back, but compensation seems to be an important element."

Gaddafi's shift has suddenly opened up Libya for business, after years of isolation under international sanctions. Libya has more than 3 percent of the world's oil reserves.

European leaders have flocked to Libya in recent months seeking to drum up business. Italy, for instance, agreed last week to pay $5 billion in compensation for its colonial rule of Libya -- and walked away with a collection of promised business deals. Libya, which earned more than $40 billion from the energy exports in 2007, is seeking to nearly double oil production capacity to 3 million barrels per day by 2012.

Libya is seeking to invest in the United States, via a $50 billion sovereign wealth fund.

Though Gaddafi has opened up to the West, he has retained a tight grip on power. His portrait adorns many buildings in Tripoli, and posters declaring "39" -- the number of years since the coup -- line the streets.

Prior to the visit, human rights groups urged Rice not to sidestep questions about democracy and freedom of speech, and called on her to directly raise the case of Libya's leading dissident, Fathi al-Jahmi. Jahmi, 67, has been jailed or held in a hospital since 2002 -- except for a brief interlude in 2004 engineered by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), now the Democratic vice presidential candidate -- for advocating freedom of speech and democracy and for meeting with U.S. diplomats. Jahmi, according to his brother Mohamed, is being held in the Tripoli Medical Center in a solitary room monitored by video and audio devices and infested with cockroaches.

Rice told reporters Friday night that she had raised Jahmi and other human rights cases in a "respectful manner." Appearing with Rice, Libyan Foreign Minister Libyan Mohammed Abdel-Rahman Shalgam dismissed the idea that Libya had anything to learn from anyone about human rights.

At least 11 Libyans have been held at U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The government here has condemned the detention; U.S. officials have expressed concern about the treatment of prisoners who have been returned to Libya.

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