'Skillful diplomacy' World hails Libya for renouncing its weap

Sunday, December 21, 2003

PARIS -- British and American diplomacy won European praise Saturday for winning Libya's 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.

For China, locked in its own disarmament effort with neighbor North Korea, and for Europe, Libya's surprise pledge was evidence that negotiations work. Egypt urged Israel to follow suit. France tempered its welcome by urging Tripoli to deal with another legacy of its dark past: An airliner bombing in 1989.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Friday's announcement, which followed secret talks with the United States and Britain, was the result of years of "painstaking diplomacy" with Libya.

He indicated that the United States, which has kept Libya on the 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" in agreeing to halt his nation's drive to develop nuclear and chemical weapons and the long-range missiles to deliver them and "needs to be applauded in unqualified terms," Straw said.

Criticism of Iraq war

South Africa also called for an end to 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."

Russia praised Libya's decision as "a responsible step which which will help strengthen the international nonproliferation regime and efforts to strengthen security in the Middle East and on the African continent."

But a statement issued by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov also contained what appeared to be an oblique criticism of the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein and rid Iraq of alleged weapons of mass destruction, noting that Libya's decision "confirms once more the effectiveness of political and diplomatic efforts and dialogue in the search for ways of solving complicated international problems."

France's reaction was mixed.

Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin saluted "the efforts of Britain and the United States that allowed for this result" and welcomed Libya's pledge as "a success for the entire international community" and an "important step" toward its full return to international respectability.

He also urged Tripoli to rapidly conclude negotiations on compensation for a 1989 attack on a French UTA airline jet that killed 170 people. A Paris court convicted six Libyans -- including the son-in-law of Gadhafi -- in absentia for the bombing. 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," de Villepin insisted.

North Korea talks

The European Union called on others to follow Libya's example.

"It clearly proves that diplomacy can win over proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons," EU foreign policy representative Javier Solana said.

Hailing Libya's move as the "product of very skillful diplomacy," the 15-nation bloc's external relations commissioner, Chris Patten, said it "will result in a tangible improvement of international security, particularly in that region" and "shows that diplomatic engagement can deliver effectively."

That argument was echoed by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao, who said "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 suspected nuclear weapons program.

In an apparent reference to Israel -- the only Middle East nation thought 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."

Asked if the international community should start looking at Israel's nuclear capabilities, Maher, who heads to Israel on Monday, said: "The steps which Libya took should be a model to follow. This is clear. I won't add anything."

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," he added.

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