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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 March 2004, 15:39 GMT
The colonel gets his reward

By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

The visit by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Libya is the culmination of a remarkable episode in the history of diplomacy and of relations between the West and the Middle East.

Colonel Gaddafi
It was announced last month that Blair would meet Colonel Gaddafi

From being one of the West's bogeymen, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has turned into, if not exactly a new friend, then someone the West is doing business with.

The man whose agents blew up the Pan Am plane over Lockerbie, ran guns to the IRA and one of whose diplomats shot a London policewoman is now back on the diplomatic circuit.

It happened because Libya settled the Lockerbie claims, offered co-operation over the death of Police Officer Yvonne Fletcher (though how far that investigation actually gets will be interesting to watch) and, above all, agreed to give up its programme of developing weapons of mass destruction.

Libya's rewards

In return, Colonel Gaddafi has got not only this visit and the attention it will attract. He has got UN sanctions lifted and soon American bilateral measures might go as well. That will help the development of Libya's oil industry.

It must also be remembered that he has had to overcome his own bad memories of the British.

US planes used their British base from which to bomb Libya in 1986. In that raid his own adopted daughter is said to have been killed. So he, too, has moved on.

It is also important in giving a reassurance to Colonel Gaddafi that there is no hidden agenda
Sa'ad Djebbar, RIIA
Mr Blair is said by his officials to be ready to offer military training to Libyan officers as a way of showing that Britain and the US do not want to disarm Libya totally and have no intention of attacking it.

"This is a very important visit both historically and symbolically," Saad Djebbar, Associate Fellow at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London told BBC News Online.

"It is the first visit by a British prime minister to Libya since independence. The last one to go there was Winston Churchill in 1943. Britain played a major role in getting an agreement over Lockerbie and the WMD issue.

Reassurance for Libya

"It is also important in giving a reassurance to Colonel Gaddafi that there is no hidden agenda, and that Britain and the US are acting in good faith and with goodwill.

"Equally, the visit is designed to encourage Libya to continue on its present course. It is also a showcase for others pigeon-holed as rogue states."

Just how the mercurial Muammar treats one of the western leaders who invaded Iraq and who is not popular in much of the Arab world remains to be seen.

But Colonel Gaddafi has always gone his own way and doubtless will carry it off with his usual individualistic style.

There are those who think it was Saddam Hussein's fate which prompted Libya to abandon its weapons programme. Others say the colonel was changing anyway because he needs to get his economy going properly after years of sanctions.

He himself has airily said that he has bought peace for Libya. "God curse money," he said when the Lockerbie claims were dealt with last year. "With money we defend our country."

The BBC's Polly Billington
"The idea is to persuade the Libyans they can have security without WMD"

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