Gaddafi may get EU invite as 'thank you'

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The Independent Online

Muammar Gaddafi may attend a European Union-Mediterranean summit in Marseilles in November in what would be widely seen as a diplomatic pay-off for Tripoli's help in the release of the Western hostages in the Philippines.

Muammar Gaddafi may attend a European Union-Mediterranean summit in Marseilles in November in what would be widely seen as a diplomatic pay-off for Tripoli's help in the release of the Western hostages in the Philippines.

This would be the Libyan President's first visit to Europe since his diplomatic isolation in the Eighties for supporting terrorist causes.

The French Foreign Minister, Hubert Védrine, said yesterday President Gaddafi "could be there" if the plan to hold a summit of all EU and Mediterranean fringe countries goes ahead. The meeting is in some doubt. France - holding the EU presidency until the end of the year - fears all other work might be blocked if Israel and the Palestinians, who are both invited, fail to reach an agreement on the next stage of the Middle East peace process.

Mr Védrine yesterday denied there was a direct quid pro quo between the hostage release and the diplomatic rehabilitation of President Gaddafi.

He told the French newspaper Le Figaro the "normalisation" of relations with Tripoli began 18 months ago when the United Nations suspended its Libyan sanctions and the EU abandoned its trade embargo (except for arms).

But Mr Védrine said the "minimum" France could do in return for the hostages' release was to "pursue what has already been started". Improved relations with Libya had begun before the hostage crisis but would continue "even more" afterwards.

Two weeks ago, the investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchainé said Paris had struck a direct bargain with Tripoli: help in negotiating the release of the hostages, including six French citizens, in return for diplomatic respectability for Libya. These allegations have been denied by Paris.

French officials say Germany contacted Libya first, and the French, German, Finnish and South African governments had to accept the Libyan mediation because there were no other promising alternatives.

Mr Védrine's comments yesterday came the nearest yet to a public admission that Libya would gain direct diplomatic benefit for the affair. He pointed out that the diplomatic isolation of President Gaddafi was already at an end.

The French President had a brief meeting with President Gaddafi when the Libyan leader attended an EU-Africa summit in Cairo in April.

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