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Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
U.S., Libya to Restore Full Diplomatic Relations

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William Huntington

The United States is set to re-establish full diplomatic relations with Libya, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced May 15. The same day, President George W. Bush filed a report that will allow Libya to be taken off of the list of state sponsors of terrorism by the end of June, easing related sanctions.

The move culminates a historic rapprochement between the two nations that began in the late 1990s with Libyan steps to cooperate with the investigation into the 1988 bombing of Pam Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Libya accepted its culpability for the bombing in August 2003 and committed to paying $2.7 billion to the families of the victims. On December 19, 2003, following months of secret negotiations between Libya, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Libya announced its intention to scrap its unconventional weapons programs. (See ACT, January/February 2004.)

Among other disarmament steps, Tripoli agreed to destroy its stock of Scud missiles that violate the Missile Technology Control Regime; declared and agreed to destroy its chemical weapons and precursors; signed an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency; and divulged information regarding its past illicit procurement of nuclear weapons-related items from the Abdul Qadeer Khan network.

The Bush administration painted the resumption of full diplomatic ties as a significant benefit for Libya stemming from Tripoli’s decision to abandon its unconventional weapons programs and made pointed comparisons with Iran and North Korea. Department of State spokesperson Edgar Vasquez told Arms Control Today May 18 that Libya’s recent decisions should stand as a “model for the regimes of Iran and North Korea.”

In a prepared statement, Rice said May 15, “Just as 2003 marked a turning point for the Libyan people so too could 2006 mark turning points for the peoples of Iran and North Korea…. We urge the leadership of Iran and North Korea to make similar strategic decisions that would benefit their citizens.”

Libyan Ambassador to the United States Ali Aujali told Arms Control Today May 22 that both Libya and the United States stood to gain from “opening a new page in U.S.-Libyan relations.” However, he noted that only if Libya realizes the benefits it expects from its new relationship with the United States would the normalization of relations send a “strong message” to the international community. These include increased economic and business ties, the institution of student exchange programs, and greater numbers of visas for Libyan citizens, he said.