June 7th, 2007 05:24 EST
U.S.-Libyan ties provide platform for engaging Libyan people
Washington -– The United States’ improved relations with Libya should not be construed as approval of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, but it is in the United States’ interest to engage the Libyan government, according to the United States’ chief Middle East diplomat.
“My job is not to make friends with authoritarians, it's to pursue what I think are national interests,” David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee June 6.
Welch said he finds it unlikely that the United States will normalize its relations completely with Libya in the near future given that country’s past sponsorship of terrorism against U.S. citizens. Nevertheless, he said it is important for the United States to establish full diplomatic relations with Libya.
“I believe that it's very important to have the most capable diplomatic representation possible in Tripoli to discharge our national interests, among which are resolving these terrorism issues of the past,” he said. “But we also have other things that we need to do with the Libyan government.”
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher expressed concern that Libyans seeking democratic reforms in their country might take the wrong message from the United States’ engagement with the Qaddafi regime.
“The point is there are Libyans who want to change it, and I would hope that we don't get caught into the trap, which is, in order to be friends of the regime, that we make enemies of the people who want democracy in that country,” he said.
Welch said Libya is not a democracy “by any stretch of the imagination,” but that a fully functioning U.S. Embassy in Tripoli would be a useful platform from which to engage the Libyan people and advocate political reform.
The United Nations placed sanctions on Libya in 1992 for its involvement in the downing of two passenger airliners. In 2003, Tripoli announced its decision to abandon its weapons of mass destruction program and pay reparations to the families of the victims of the two airline attacks.
These actions put Libya and the United States on track to resume diplomatic relations. In May 2006, the U.S. State Department rescinded Libya’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism and announced its intention to upgrade its diplomatic presence in Tripoli to a full embassy. (See related article.)
The full text of Welch's prepared testimony is available on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Web site.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
By David Shelby
USINFO Staff Writer