Blair in historic trip to Libya for Gaddafi talks

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Tony Blair is preparing to make a historic trip to Libya tomorrow for talks with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Tony Blair is preparing to make a historic trip to Libya tomorrow for talks with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The visit, the first time a British prime minister has been to the north African state, is an indicator of Libya's progress back into the international community since its announcement last year that it would give up its weapons of mass destruction.

A major security operation will be mounted during the brief visit but the Government's hopes that details of the visit would be kept secret until Mr Blair stepped on to Libyan soil were dashed by Colonel Gaddafi's son. Speaking to reporters in Qatar, Faif al-Islam Gaddafi said: "For the first time in modern history a British prime minister will visit Libya. Tony Blair will visit Libya this coming Thursday."

Downing Streetrefused to comment on the prospect of the visit, which would follow a meeting in Madrid with the incoming Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Government sources said it could still be called off if the Prime Minister's security team was not entirely confident of his safety.

The prospect of a visit was raised by Britain after Libya's renunciation of WMD before Christmas. It could even be followed by a return visit by Colonel Gaddafi. It will be hailed by Mr Blair as a vindication of his stand against rogue states.

Speaking after Libya renounced its weapons in December, Mr Blair said: "Libya has begun the process of rejoining the community of nations and Colonel Gaddafi knows the way forward."

Britain broke off diplomatic relations with Libya in 1984 after the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher. Relations worsened after the issuing of arrest warrants for two Libyan officials in connection with the Lockerbie bombing in 1988. But diplomatic relations were resumed in 1999 after the Libyans accepted "general responsibility" for the shooting of WPC Fletcher. The visit is likely to herald progress in the case.

Last week US officials displayed equipment which they said were part of Libya's nuclear weapons programme, and claimed that its surrender was partly due to the invasion of Iraq.

The Libyans will press to get American sanctions lifted and urge military co-operation between Libya, Britain and America. Mr Blair will arrive two days after the US assistant secretary of state, William Burns, becomes Libya's highest-level American visitor in more than 30 years.

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