Bush Speaks With Libya's Gaddafi in Historic Phone Call

Associated Press
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

President Bush called Libya's Moammar Gaddafi yesterday -- apparently the first time any president has spoken to the African leader -- to voice his satisfaction that Libya had settled a long-standing dispute over terrorist attacks, including the bombing of a Pan Am jet over Scotland, the White House said.

In their conversation, Bush and Gaddafi "discussed that this agreement should help to bring a painful chapter in the history between our two countries closer to closure," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement.

On Oct. 31, Libya paid $1.5 billion into a fund that will pay claims for the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1986 bombing of a German disco. Another $300 million will go to Libyan victims of U.S. airstrikes ordered in retaliation for the disco bombings. The payment cleared the last hurdle in restoration of full normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Libya.

C. David Welch, a State Department diplomat who negotiated the agreement, said at the time that payments to U.S. victims' families should start within days, and family groups hailed the news.

"While we will always mourn the loss of life as a result of past terrorist activities, the settlement agreement is an important step in repairing the relationship between Libya and the United States," Johndroe's statement read.

"Libya has taken important steps on the road to normalizing its relations with the international community, beginning with its renunciation in 2003 of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction," the statement said. "The United States will continue to work on the bilateral relationship with Libya, with the aim of establishing a dialogue that encompasses all subjects, including human rights reform and the fight against terrorism."

A senior White House official told the Reuters news agency that there was no record of any previous U.S. president speaking to Gaddafi, who seized power in a 1969 military coup. Rights groups say Gaddafi's reign has been marked by human rights abuses and restrictions on freedom of expression.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plans to meet Tuesday with Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who will be in Washington on a private visit, officials said. In early September, after the settlement deal, Rice became the most senior U.S. official to visit Libya in more than a half century.

The developments capped a remarkable turnaround in U.S.-Libyan relations that hit a low in the 1980s but began to improve after Gaddafi -- whom President Ronald Reagan once famously called the "mad dog of the Middle East" -- renounced weapons of mass destruction and terrorism in 2003.

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