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Libya/U.K.: Blair Hails 'New Partnership' On Landmark Trip

Prague, 25 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair is hailing what he calls a "new partnership" with Libya, after historic talks with the country's leader today.

Blair made the remarks after meeting Muammar Ghadhaffi outside the Libyan capital, Tripoli. He praised Libya's decision in December to renounce weapons of mass destruction, following months of secret talks with Britain and the United States.

And he said Ghadhaffi -- once reviled in the West as a sponsor of terrorism -- now sees "common cause" in the fight against Al-Qaeda.

"I was particularly struck at our earlier meeting with Colonel Ghadhaffi by his insistence not only of Libya's determination to carry on down this path of cooperation but also his recognition that Libya's own future is best secured by a new relationship with the outside world and the recognition also of a common cause with us in the fight against Al-Qaeda, extremism, and terrorism, which threatens not only the Western world, but the Arab world also," Blair said.

Kathleen Flynn, an American whose son was killed at Lockerbie, said the trip is "insulting" to the families of the victims.
Blair's visit is the first by a British leader to Libya in 60 years and is seen as a landmark step in Tripoli's return to the international fold.

The trip is seen as a reward for Libya's renunciation of banned weapons, and for agreeing to pay compensation to relatives of the 270 people killed in the 1988 airliner bombing over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.

Blair said people should not forget the past, but should try to move beyond it.

"I understand why people will say, 'How is it that you can sit down with Colonel Ghadhaffi, given the past?' But my answer to that is, because I have an overriding duty to preserve and enhance the security of my country and of the wider world, and if I can do that by bringing about genuine change in a country such as Libya -- with whom we had no relationship at all, and with whom the past has been scarred by these terrible incidents -- if we can do that, then we should do it," Blair said.

The thaw in relations has already brought gains to British business. Oil giant Royal Dutch/Shell has signed a $200 million gas-exploration deal with Libya.

But Blair's Libya trip has not been universally welcomed back home.

Michael Ancram, the opposition Conservatives' spokesman on foreign affairs, yesterday called it "highly questionable.”

"Welcome as Libya's commitment to disarmament is, we should never forget -- we should never forget the victims of Ghadhaffi's sponsorship of terrorism," Ancram said.

Kathleen Flynn, an American whose son was killed at Lockerbie, said the trip is "insulting" to the families of the victims.

But Jim Swire, who has been a spokesman for relatives of the British victims, welcomed the trip, saying it will help reduce the chances of further terrorist attacks.

Lockerbie is not the only grievance Britain has against Libya.

Ghadhaffi is held responsible for many British deaths because his regime supplied shiploads of weapons to the Irish Republican Army in the 1980s.

In 1984, policewoman Yvonne Fletcher was shot dead outside Libya's London Embassy, an incident that prompted Britain to cut diplomatic ties with Tripoli.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said today that British police will go to Libya soon to pursue the case.

Blair's visit is the latest sign of a warming of Libya's relations with the West.

The leaders of Spain and Italy have already met Ghadhaffi in recent months. Earlier this week, Assistant Secretary of State William Burns became the highest-level U.S. official to visit Libya in more than 30 years.