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Wednesday, 7 August, 2002, 17:52 GMT 18:52 UK
UK minister meets Gaddafi
Muammar Gadaffi, Libyan leader
Gaddafi has backed the IRA in the past
The first British minister to go to Libya since 1983 has met veteran leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien had said ahead of the meeting that he would be urging Colonel Gaddafi to sign up to international agreements guarding against the use of weapons of mass destruction.

The three-hour talks took place at Surt, a coastal town about 200 miles east of Tripoli.

The Libyans recognise their long term interests are in being part of the international community

Mike O'Brien
Foreign Office Minister

Earlier, the foreign minister held informal talks over lunch, followed by a formal meeting with Libyan ministers and diplomats.

British officials said the Libyans had fielded a "heavyweight" team for the discussions, indicating that they were taking the dialogue seriously.

They described those talks as "a workmanlike, thorough work-through of the bilateral issues", adding that Libya had given a "clear signal" that it wanted to put the issue of Lockerbie behind it.

Mr O'Brien's visit is publicly aimed at securing the support of Colonel Gaddafi's regime for the international war on terror.

Encouraging change

The two countries also have an economic interest in boosting relations after years of animosity.

Mr O'Brien told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the UK did not believe Libya had sponsored terrorism for "some years".

Encouraging change

"A Libya which no longer supports terrorism is very much in Britain's interest," he said.

"Our hard-headed judgement all along is that we are more likely to achieve that by encouraging rather than isolating Libya."

Mike O'Brien in Libya (pictures from Libyan TV)
O'Brien's visit has attracted a blaze of local publicity
Libya had shown its desire to move from "pariah" to a state complying with international law by handing over the Lockerbie bomb suspects, said Mr O'Brien.

In contrast, Iraq had moved in the opposite direction, breaking UN conventions.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has talked of Libya being part of an "axis of evil".

Local welcome

The BBC's Bridget Kendall, who is accompanying the minister, reports that the visit attracted keen interest among the Arabic media.

After being welcomed by Libyan Ambassador to London Mohammed al-Zwai at the airport, Mr O'Brien held talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Saad Mujber.

Yvonne Fletcher, who was shot in 1983
Yvonne Fletcher's murder prompted the diplomatic rift
Mr al-Zwai had said ahead of the arrival that he hoped the visit would improve relations with Britain "in every field".

Mr O'Brien was asking the Libyan leadership to help the West by providing intelligence on al-Qaeda.

It is thought likely that the possibility of military action against Iraq would also be discussed.

Oil contracts?

Ahead of the talks Mr O'Brien stressed that an attack on Iraq was neither imminent nor inevitable.

The UK is keen to use the visit to boost ties that have been cautiously improving ever since diplomatic relations were restored three years ago.

Libya is keen to re-enter the world economy and the UK does not want to lose out to other European nations already jostling for advantage when it comes to potentially lucrative oil contracts.

Sanctions against Libya have been suspended but Colonel Gaddafi wants them lifted permanently.

Libya's decision to hand over the officials tried for the Lockerbie bombing was seen as a major breakthrough in ties, but Mr O'Brien is due to raise issues still causing concern:

  • Compensation for the victims of the Lockerbie bombing, although Mr O'Brien has stressed that it is a matter which must be resolved between Libya and lawyers for the families.
  • The investigation into the 1984 murder of British police officer Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London has yet to be completed. Britain restored diplomatic relations in 1999 only after Tripoli accepted general responsibility for the shooting.
  • The regime's support for Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe

'Sensible diplomacy'

The Conservatives have given a cautious welcome to the talks as part of international efforts to tackle terrorism.

A party spokesman said Mr O'Brien must tell Colonel Gaddafi he must renounce all sponsorship of terrorism, not just condemn certain groups.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said Colonel Gaddafi was unpredictable but the mission was a sensible move.

Amid talk of possible action against Iraq, it was important to be seen to show a "discriminatory" approach to the Middle East, Mr Campbell told Today.

The BBC's Brian Hanrahan
"Meetings with Col. Gaddafi are usually theatrical"
Foriegn Office Minister Mike O'Brien
"A Libya which no longer supports terrorism is very much in Britain's interests"
Lockerbie megapuff graphic


Appeal concludes

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See also:

07 Aug 02 | Middle East
24 Jun 02 | Middle East
25 Apr 02 | Scotland
16 Apr 02 | Scotland
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
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