Libyan minister's visit is diplomatic milestone

The Libyan Foreign minister, Abdul Rahman Shalgam, arrives in London this evening to seal the recent rapprochement between Britain and Libya. The Foreign Office described the visit as "a milestone in the move to end Libya's international pariah status".

Mr Shalgam is the highest- ranking Libyan official to visit Britain for more than 30 years. He will dine with the Foreign Office minister, Mike O'Brien, tonight, and have meetings with Tony Blair and the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, tomorrow, followed by a full-dress press conference in the splendour of the Locarno room at the Foreign Office.

The red-carpet treatment for Mr Shalgam and his delegation follows the announcement before Christmas that Libya had undertaken to abandon its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes and open the country to international inspection. Since that announcement, a succession of British, US and international disarmament officials have been to Libya to conduct preliminary talks and inspections. The announcement was the culmination of nine months of secret three-way talks between Libyan, US and British officials, begun at Libya's initiative.

The breakthrough in British-Libyan relations came in April 1999 with the agreement by Libya to extradite two of its officials, wanted in connection with the bombing of the Pan Am plane over Lockerbie in 1988.

Last December Libya also cleared an outstanding £20m debt, which paves the way for Britain to grant export credits.

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