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Libya: Is This Former 'Rogue State' Now A Model For Others?

Libya appears to be making further sustained efforts to rejoin the international community. First it settled its compensation cases for terrorist actions. Then it moved to give up all programs of weapons of mass destruction. Now it is moving to become a full member of the European Union's partnership with Mediterranean-rim nations. It has even cooperated with a delegation from the human-rights group Amnesty International. Is Libya proving a model for the rehabilitation of a former "rogue state?"

Prague, 2 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi appears to be making fresh efforts to reintegrate his long-isolated country with the world community.

In Brussels, the European Commission -- the executive arm of the European Union -- yesterday issued a statement saying Libya will take steps to become a full member of the EU's partnership with Mediterranean countries.

The commission said its president, Romano Prodi, had a "very warm" meeting with Gadhafi at a gathering of African leaders the previous weekend.

"In terms of opening up politics in Libya, that is a much more contentious issue for the regime..."
The statement quoted Gadhafi as saying his country is ready to start working immediately to join what the EU calls the Barcelona Process, and that Prodi welcomes this enthusiastically.

At present, Libya has only observer status in parts of the Barcelona process, which is the EU's instrument for creating special political and economic ties with the Muslim nations on the southern rim of the Mediterranean.

Prodi has long been interested in increasing ties with Libya and first raised that possibility in controversial comments years ago when Libya was still frozen out of the international community.

In his latest statements, Prodi said the presence of Libya in the nine-year-old Barcelona process would make it a comprehensive policy for the entire region.

Regional analyst Richard Reeve of Jane's military publishing group says Gadhafi appears to genuinely desire improved ties with the outside world -- at least to the extent that such ties work to Libya's advantage.

"I think Libya is very genuine about needing investment in its economy, and opening up economically to the West," he said. "I think it is also genuine to the extent that [Tripoli] does see the pursuit of nonconventional security programs as a dead end. It certainly got nowhere with sponsoring terrorism in the 1980s and, really, with the current situation led by the United States, it is going nowhere with attempts to procure nuclear or chemical weapons."

Another sign of Tripoli's new openness is the just-ended visit of a team of experts from the London-based huma-rights organization Amnesty International.

Delegation member Sarah Hamood expressed pleasure at the way the group was received: "We were very pleased with the unprecedented access that we had. As you may be aware, we have not had access to the country for 15 years. And on this occasion, we were given very good access to the authorities, but also to prisoners, where we were able to conduct one-to-one interviews."

The team was able to speak personally with Gadhafi, and Amnesty delegation head Claudio Cordone said the Libyan leader told them he would consider their recommendations, which are contained in a report they have compiled.

The report apparently contains some stiff criticism, including on the continuing use of the death penalty, intolerance of political activity, and the disappearance of prisoners.

"We have a number of serious concerns and we are hoping this Amnesty visit is a first step toward trying to improve matters in the country,” Hamood said. “The [Libyan] authorities have in the past taken some positive steps, including releasing political prisoners."

Hamood says such steps were limited, however, and that now is a good time for the government to take concrete measures to improve the human-rights situation.

It is unclear how quickly, if ever, Gadhafi will move to act on Amnesty's recommendations. But observers like Reeve say Libya should be given credit for even allowing the visit to take place.

"That's certainly an interesting development on the domestic scene," he said. "It is certainly much easier for Gadhafi to open up internationally and make these grand rhetorical gestures with the [weapons] decommissioning and so on. But in terms of opening up politics in Libya, that is a much more contentious issue for the regime, and in some ways you would expect it to be quite cautious."

Another positive development within the past week is the decision by the United States to ease some sanctions on Libya. Washington is allowing Tripoli to re-establish a diplomatic presence in Washington. It is also lifting a ban on travel to Libya -- something that will open the gates to U.S. entrepreneurs looking to return to Libya's economic scene.

Libya welcomed this as a "good start" to normalizing bilateral ties. All of these moves have come in the space of just a few months. So has Libya become a model for other "rogue states" looking to rehabilitate themselves?

Reeve says perhaps -- but only to a limited degree: "Libya's position is advantageous compared with other comparable states, in that it is not really in the core area of the Middle East, [like] Syria. It does not have the direct issue of Palestine to confront it domestically. And it has a rather different situation than North Korea -- certainly, in the immediate environment of Libya, none of its neighbors really [poses] a threat to it."

Gadhafi has always been considered an impulsive leader. Now that he has begun to reverse his previous policies and is starting down a new course of openness, it looks like he will continue.

The real test of this change of heart, however, will come in terms of domestic political liberalizations, rather than in the renewing international contacts.