Cable: Gadhafi offered to help US fight terror

A secret United States diplomatic message describes Moammar Gadhafi as offering to help the U.S. with counterterrorism operations in Africa just three years after the U.S. removed Libya from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The brash proposal came during Gadhafi's May 2009 meeting with Gen. William Ward, head of the U.S. Africa Command, according to a memorandum published this week by the website WikiLeaks. It doesn't say whether Ward responded to the offer by the Libyan leader, who seems to have done most of the talking during the hour-long discussions.

In the early 1970s Gadhafi supplied weapons, training and safe haven to terrorists, including Italy's Red Brigades and the Irish Republican Army. His regime was also implicated in the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco, which killed two U.S. soldiers, and the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which claimed 270 lives.

Gadhafi voluntarily ended Libya's nuclear weapons program in 2003. Three years later, the Bush administration removed Libya from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror as a step toward restoring diplomatic relations.

The State Department message depicts the Libyan leader as a shrewd and self-serving autocrat, who tried to build a closer relationship with Washington even as he sought to discourage U.S. military bases and operations in Africa. At one point, Gadhafi cautioned the U.S. against trusting Arab leaders and suggested he might play an undefined role in the Mideast, if the U.S. asked.

Some of Gadhafi's comments sound prophetic in light of the deadly clashes between his military forces and the popular rebellion seeking to drive him out. "Every time we put out a fire in Africa, another breaks out," the message quoted Gadhafi as saying. "We used to say that this was a U.S. conspiracy, but not anymore."

Gadhafi delivered "a lengthy monologue" to Ward, the message said, on Africa's political development from liberation movements to dictatorship and finally multi-party elections. Political parties are outlawed in Libya, which is nominally ruled by People's Committees and People's Congresses while Gadhafi is the real center of power.

The deadpan diplomatic message is enlivened by Gadhafi's idiosyncratic view of the world. At one point, Gadhafi accuses Switzerland's banking system of being a major source of financing for terrorists and suggests that the country be broken up and divided among its neighbors.

In what may have been a bid to ease U.S. pressure for reform, Gadhafi raised the issue of China's growing presence on the continent, predicting that Beijing would prevail over Washington because it didn't interfere in countries' internal affairs.