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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 August 2007, 01:17 GMT 02:17 UK
Top US envoy holds talks in Libya
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi
Col Gaddafi has made some moves to improve US-Libyan ties
A top US Middle East envoy has arrived in Libya to lay the groundwork for a possible visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later this year.

David Welch will also discuss improving bilateral ties and compensation for terrorism victims as he meets Foreign Ministry officials during the visit.

The trip is seen as a sign of Libya's return to the international fold.

Ms Rice suggested she might visit Libya after it released six foreign medical workers convicted of spreading HIV.

Libya had sentenced the six medics to death for infecting 438 children with HIV, the virus that causes Aids.

The medics - five Bulgarians and a Palestinian - were released in July after eight years in custody and a series of trials, widely criticised abroad, which had left them facing death sentences.

Strengthening ties

Mr Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, met Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Sayalah after arriving in the capital, Tripoli.

This visit is very important because it lays the ground for another important visit by Secretary Rice next month
Mohammad Sayalah
Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister

Mr Welch will also hold talks with Foreign Minister Abdelrahman Shalgham and other ministry officials during the two-day trip.

"This visit is very important because it lays the ground for another important visit by Secretary Rice next month," Mr Sayalah said after talks with Mr Welch.

"The goal is to enhance bilateral relations."

US-Libya relations have improved since 2003, when Libya accepted responsibility for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland.

That year Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi also agreed to dismantle the country's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes.

US envoy David Welch (R) meets Libyan Foreign Ministry official Ahmed Feturi
The United States cut diplomatic ties with Libya in 1980

In July, US President George W Bush nominated a US ambassador to Libya, the first since the US cut diplomatic ties in 1980.

The confirmation of Gene Cretz as ambassador has been held up by Congress in disputes over final compensation for the Lockerbie bombing victims, as well as US victims of a 1986 blast at a disco in the German city of Berlin.

Ms Rice would be the first US secretary of state to visit Libya since 1953.

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