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Rice in talks with Libya's Gaddafi

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Condoleezza Rice meets Colonel Gaddafi

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has met Libya's Muammar Gaddafi on a visit to the north African country US officials are hailing as "historic".

She is the first US secretary of state to visit Libya since 1953.

The pair met at Mr Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli, which was hit in US bombing raids ordered by Ronald Reagan in 1986.

Libya was on the US state department list of sponsors of terrorism until 2003, when it abandoned weapons of mass destruction and renounced terrorism.

Before arriving, Ms Rice pointed out the "suffering" caused by Libya's long stand-off with the West.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi  (file image)

"It demonstrates that when countries are prepared to make strategic changes in direction, the United States is prepared to respond," she told reporters on the way to Tripoli.

Ms Rice's meeting with the Libyan leader began when Mr Gaddafi, wearing a white robe decorated with a brooch in the shape of Africa, welcomed her and her aides.

There was no handshake between the two. As Ms Rice entered the room, Mr Gaddafi raised a hand to his chest in a traditional gesture of welcome.

Before beginning their talks in earnest, the pair discussed the hurricanes bearing down on the US and exchanged pleasantries before a large gathering of journalists.

They were later to share an Iftar meal which breaks the fast during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.

The BBC's Rana Jawad in Tripoli says that six years ago, such a visit would have seemed far-fetched, but diplomacy and political will have overcome the obstacles.

'Way forward'

Earlier this month, Libya agreed to pay compensation to families of the victims of the Lockerbie aircraft bombing, for which it formally accepted responsibility in 2003.

The deal includes compensation for Libyan victims of the United States' retaliatory bombing raid over Libya in 1986.

Ms Rice's visit was partly intended to be a reward for successful completion of the deal, but Libya has not yet transferred the promised hundreds of millions of dollars into a humanitarian account.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Welch, told Reuters that he was optimistic the transfer would happen soon but that Ms Rice would press Libya on this issue.

A trade and investment agreement may also be signed and the two countries have been negotiating a military memorandum to co-operate on fighting terrorism.

Col Gaddafi has stopped short of referring to America as a friend, but in a televised speech this week he said improved relations were a way for both countries to leave each other alone.

Our correspondent says that although the visit is largely symbolic diplomacy, many in Libya hope that US-Libyan relations will only improve in the long-run.

Ms Rice's trip will also include visits to Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.



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