Rice's 'historic' trip to Libya signals improved relations

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The Independent Online

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi - once reviled as a "mad dog" by President Reagan - on Friday on a historic visit which she said proved that Washington had no permanent enemies.

Rice's trip, the first by a US secretary of state to the North African country in 55 years, is intended to end decades of enmity, five years after Libya gave up its weapons of mass destruction programme.

"I think we are off to a good start. It is only a start but after many, many years, I think it is a very good thing that the United States and Libya are establishing a way forward," Rice told a news conference after talks with Gaddafi at a compound bombed by US warplanes in 1986.

She said she hoped there would be a new U.S. ambassador in Libya "soon".

"Rice's visit is proof that Libya has changed, America has changed and the world has changed. There is dialogue, understanding and entente between the two countries now," said Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel-Rahman Shalgam.

For years, Washington considered Gaddafi a major supporter of terrorism and one of its most prominent enemies.

Incidents such as the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland, for which a Libyan agent was convicted, and the US air raids on Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986 sent tensions soaring.

But in recent years Gaddafi has cooled his anti-Western rhetoric and sought to bring Libya back into the international mainstream.

On Friday, he welcomed Rice in an incense-perfumed room in his compound and they later took Iftar, the traditional meal breaking the fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.