Published December 20, 2003
PARIS – British and American diplomacy won European praise Saturday for winning Libya's (search) pledge to renounce weapons of mass destruction, and Britain looked forward to Washington lifting sanctions against the North African state it accuses of sponsoring terrorism.
China, locked in its own effort to halt neighbor North Korea's (search) nuclear weapons program, and other nations saw Libya's surprise pledge as evidence that negotiations work. Egypt urged Israel to follow suit.
Europe held out the possibility of restoring diplomatic relations with Libya, while France tempered its praise by urging Tripoli to deal with another legacy of its dark past: An airliner bombing in 1989.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search), through a spokesman, hailed Libya's decision as "a positive step toward the strengthening of global efforts to prevent the spread and use of those weapons."
He urged all nations to fully implement disarmament treaties.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (search) said Libya's decision, announced Friday after secret negotiations with the United States and Britain, was the result of years of "painstaking diplomacy" to bring Tripoli in from the diplomatic cold.
He indicated that the United States, which has kept Libya on its list of nations that sponsor terrorism, may lift its 17-year embargo against the North African state.
"The United States is looking forward to an entirely new approach and relationship with Libya," Straw told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. On sanctions, he said: "I would expect them to be lifted, I can't say exactly when."
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi showed "huge statesmanship" and "needs to be applauded in unqualified terms," Straw said.
South Africa, which voluntarily dismantled its nuclear weapons program in the 1990s, also called for an end to the U.S. sanctions, saying Libya's move "will further create the conditions for Africa to achieve its vision of having a continent free of weapons of mass destruction."
President Bush on Friday held out the promise of improving relations with Libya if Gadhafi keeps his word on weapons and engages in efforts to combat terrorism.
The U.N. Security Council ended sanctions against Libya in September after Gadhafi's government took responsibility for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed 270 people, and agreed to pay $2.7 billion to the victims' families.
Russia and France, both vociferous opponents of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, said Libya's decision demonstrated the effectiveness of using peaceful political tools to resolve international problems.
"It clearly proves that diplomacy can win over proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons," added Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy representative.
France mixed its praise of British and American diplomacy with an appeal for Tripoli to rapidly conclude negotiations on compensation for the 1989 bombing of a French UTA airliner over Niger that killed 170 people.
A Paris court convicted six Libyans — including the son-in-law of Gadhafi — in absentia for the attack. Victims' families want compensation on top of $33 million Libya already paid in 1999.
"Commitments made by the Libyan authorities with regard to the UTA affair must be implemented without delay," insisted French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.
China, another critic of the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq, joined the diplomacy-is-best camp, with spokesman Liu Jianchao saying: "Political and diplomatic approaches are the most effective forms to achieve the goal of nonproliferation."
China, the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Russia are trying to convene a new round of so-called six-nation talks with North Korea, possibly early next year, over its nuclear weapons program.
There also were signs that Libya could reap substantial rewards for abandoning its drive to develop nuclear and chemical weapons and the long-range missiles to deliver them.
The decision "marks a further step toward establishing the right conditions for the restoration of full diplomatic relations between Libya and the European Union," said the president of the 15-nation bloc's executive, Romano Prodi.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said if implemented, the disarmament pledge "will pave the way for Libya's return to the family of nations."
But Libya's decision also led to renewed Arab pressure on Israel over its own arsenal.
In an apparent reference to Israel — the only Middle East nation believed to possess nuclear weapons — Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher urged countries in the region to "put an end to any nuclear weapons production program."
Maher did not specifically name Israel, but said, "You know, of course, who I mean."
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa was more direct, saying Libya's move "emphasizes the need for Israel to comply with all the regulations that prohibit the proliferation of weapons."
"There should be no exceptions," Moussa added.