In advance of Vice President Bush's trip to Saudi Arabia, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi sent two emissaries to Riyadh in an apparent attempt to try once again to open a dialogue with Washington in the wake of the U.S.-Libyan confrontation last week in the Gulf of Sidra.
Administration officials said they have no intention of responding to Qaddafi's latest overture through the Saudis. They added that they have also rebuffed half a dozen other attempts by Libya to make contact with the United States through various European and Arab channels following the Dec. 27 terrorist attacks on the Rome and Vienna airports.
Saudi King Fahd talked to Qaddafi on the phone the day after the first American attack on Libyan military targets March 24. Fahd subsequently told U.S. officials that the Libyan leader appeared deeply affected by the American use of force against him and the king described Qaddafi as "incomprehensible and disoriented" on the telephone, according to one administration source.
The would-be European and Arab mediators, including King Fahd himself, were firmly told in January that the administration was not interested either in "a direct or indirect dialogue" with Qaddafi, according to the source.
The same message will be given to the Saudis again if the king brings up the issue during his talks with Bush, the official said.
Bush is scheduled to arrive Saturday in Saudi Arabia on the first leg of a trip to the Persian Gulf region that will also take him to Bahrain, Oman and North Yemen. The main purpose of his trip is to reaffirm a continuing American commitment to the countries of the Arabian peninsula in the wake of the latest military gains by Iran in its war against neighboring Iraq.
In addition, Bush is expected to discuss with gulf Arab leaders the state of the glutted oil market, where prices continue to plunge largely because of the Saudi increase in production; increased cooperation with the United States in combating terrorism, and possible military contingency plans with Washington in case of an Iranian incursion into Kuwait.
At a news conference yesterday, Bush said he also is expected to be asked during his trip about the administration's attitude toward the Libyan leader and was ready to tell anyone who asked "right directly how strongly we feel about Qaddafi, what a menace he is."
"Qaddafi has not changed his spots and it doesn't look to me like he's going to change them," he added.
The administration has been encouraged by the lack of any strong reaction in the Arab world, or from the Soviet Union, to the latest use of U.S. force against Libya. The mild reaction has encouraged the United States to continue its hard-line stance toward Qaddafi, one that is aimed at isolating him, officials said.
"We've told everybody he [Qaddafi] has to change his ways, and when he changes, there will be no need for a dialogue," the official said. "It's more if he behaves, we leave him alone."
The administration has also told various would-be mediators that it is not interested in striking any "deal" with Qaddafi whereby the Libyan leader would promise to end terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in return for improved relations with the United States, the offical said.
Qaddafi sent two high-ranking envoys -- Khuwailidi Humaidi, a member of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council, and Ali Treiki, former Libyan foreign minister -- to Saudi Arabia three days after the first U.S. attack on Libyan military targets.
King Fahd declined to see them personally but other high-ranking members of the royal family held talks with the two Libyans, according to a U.S. official who said the administration expects a "message" will be waiting for Bush upon his arrival in Saudi Arabia Saturday.
U.S. officials said Fahd in January was eager to play a role of mediator between Qaddafi and the United States. They assume the Libyan leader has taken advantage of the Saudi attitude, as well as Bush's visit to the kingdom, to renew his attempts to establish contacts with the administration.
In addition to King Fahd, Qaddafi also tried in January to enlist the support of the leaders of Greece, Austria, Malta, Italy and Morocco to open a dialogue with Washington.
The officials said the administration was particularly wary of Qaddafi's overtures because of what happened to French President Francois Mitterrand in November 1984, when he attempted to ease tensions between France and Libya over Chad by meeting secretly with the Libyan leader in Crete.
Based on a Qaddafi pledge at the time to withdraw Libyan troops from the civil war in Chad, Mitterrand ordered French forces to leave but discovered later that the Libyans had stayed on in northern Chad. The meeting and broken agreement proved a major embarrassment to the French president.