France announced today the lifting of an embargo on arms deliveries to libya, thus clearing the way for renewed oil exploration in Libya by the government-owned company ELF-Aquitaine.
Announced by the External Affairs Ministry, the decision was in line with Socialist President Francois Mitterrand's policy of honoring all contracts signed by the previous government headed by Valery Giscard d'Estaining, regardless of the new authorities' misgivings.
The decision had its ironies. During the presidential election campaign last spring, Mitterrand attacked Giscard's handling of arms and oil exploration deals with Libya.
In February Giscard's government embargoed all dealings with Libya in the wake of Libyan leader Muammer Qaddafi intervention in civil strife in Chad.
French prestige in Africa, once the pride of Gidscard's foreign policy, suffered a humiliating reversal in Chad when the French government failed to prevent the disintegration of its former colony. There were reverberations throughout France's far-flung former empire in black Africia.
Word of the ELF-Aquitaine deal with Libya, covering exploration rights for 5,770 square miles and an offshore concession, originally was leaked -- much to Giscard's embarrassment -- just days before the capital of Chad, Ndjamena, fell to the Libyans in December.
Involved in the Libyan arms deal are French helicopters, about 30 Mirage F1 warplanes and about 10 fast patrol boats. Although the decision stuck to the letter of the government intentions, Defense Minister Charles Hernu last week said France would not deliver ordered armored vehicles to Chile because they might to used against civilians.
Since the Socialists took power, embargoed arms have been delivered to Argentina and Iran.
The new decision was taken after a weekend meeting of a top-ranking Libyan diplomat, Said Afiama, with Jean-Pieree Cot, special minister for cooperation and equipment.
Official sources in his ministry emphasized that Cot had said that no new arms would be sold to Libya until Qaddafi had withdrawn his troops from Chad and finished restoring the French Embassy in Tripoli, which was badly damaged by a mob in February 1980.
Nor, until then, would French leaders hold high-level meetings with Qaddafi or his top aide, Maj. Abdessalam Jalloud, the sources said, although ministerial contacts could be expected.
Various French ministers have emphasized that new arms deal will have to meet socialist principles, but have noted that in a time of rising unemployment France does not intend to drop out of the profitable arms trade.
The arms industry provides jobs for about 300,000 workers and accounts for 5 percent of French exports.
As if to defect local and foreign criticism, French officials defensively noted that the United States continued to allow two American oil companies to conduct the lion's share of Libya's oil business while at the same time criticizing the Qaddafi govrenment.