Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Disgust Among Arab Democrats Greets U.S. Entente With Libya

Eli Lake, The New York Sun:
When America and Libya come to reopen their embassies in Washington and Tripoli to finalize the process of normalizing diplomatic ties, Arab democrats will be demoralized and the families of those killed by acts of Libyan terror will be disgusted.

That was the reaction yesterday from the brother of Libya's leading dissident, Fathi Eljahmi, and some of the families of the victims of the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing to news from the State Department that America was taking Muammar Gadhafi's regime off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

"There is now nothing left to bargain with," Mohamed Eljahmi said yesterday. "It is a sad day for human rights in Libya. It is a sad day for President Bush's rhetoric about democracy in the Middle East. It is a sad for all Arab democrats."

Bert Ammerman, whose brother Tom perished in the Pan Am 103 bombing, summed up his feelings this way: "This is a horrendous decision. What the Bush administration is saying today is, 'If you are a sponsor of terrorism and you murder American citizens, we will try to normalize relations with you eventually.'"

Gathered before the State Department press corps yesterday, Secretary of State Rice presented the decision to fully normalize ties as a great diplomatic achievement. "Today marks the opening of a new era in U.S.-Libya relations that will benefit Americans and Libyans alike," she said.

The decisions to remove Libya from the terrorism list and upgrade America's presence in Tripoli to a full embassy will make the Libyan tyrant eligible for military aid and remove any remaining stigma attached to American companies to help develop Libyan oil fields.

Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said yesterday that the decision to restore full ties with Libya in part could influence Iran and North Korea that there are benefits to abandoning their nuclear weapons programs as Libya did in 2003. "Libya serves as an important model as we push for changes in policy by other countries, such as Iran and North Korea," Mr. Welch said.

But according to Mr. Eljahmi, the decision could be perilous for his brother, who last month was sentenced under a law that carries a penalty of death in part for meeting with an American official.

Fathi Eljahmi was first arrested in March 2003 after criticizing the Libyan regime on Arab satellite television. His remarks came just as the first overt American mission was landing in Libya to verify the country's dismantling of its nuclear program. "We are taking everything Gadhafi says at face value and giving him everything he wants," Mohamed Eljahmi said. "Why didn't we at least wait until Fathi was free?"

Reaction to the news of normalizing ties was met for the most part with approval in Congress. The chairman of the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence, Peter Hoekstra, a Republican of Michigan, said yesterday he had encouraged Ms. Rice to make this decision for some time.

In a statement he said, "Libya has come a long way in its cooperation with the United States on combating terrorism, from a rogue state to supporter in the global war on terror. I have been to Libya several times, most recently last January, and witnessed this cooperation first hand," he said in a press statement.

In 1998, Libya was the first country to refer Osama bin Laden to Interpol. However the next year the regime arranged for the release of European hostages held by an Al Qaeda-connected group, Abu-Sayyaf, in the Philippines by paying a hefty ransom they were demanding.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, a Republican of Indiana, said yesterday he was confident the Libyans had made progress in dismantling their chemical weapons facilities. In 2004, a bipartisan commission investigating America's intelligence failures in estimating weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, said that the CIA did not know the extent of Libya's chemical and biological weapons capabilities.

The ranking Democrat on Mr. Lugar's committee, Senator Biden, of Delaware, yesterday also praised the Bush administration's decision. At the same time, Mr. Biden encouraged Mr. Bush to continue to press for the release of Fathi Eljahmi and to encourage the Libyans to take responsibility for the bombing of a German disco in 1996. Mr. Biden is one of the few lawmakers to raise Mr. Eljahmi's fate directly with Libyan regime officials in his visits to Tripoli.

While American congressmen and diplomats have praised Libya's behavior, some of Mr. Gadhafi's remarks recently have been antagonistic. The Middle East Media Research Institute, for example, posted yesterday April 10, 2006, Al-Jazeera footage where the Libyan leader urged Europe and America to either convert to Islam or declare war on Muslims. READ MORE

A January 6, Al-Jazeera clip from Mr. Gadhafi has him saying that Libya could save money on its defense budget by using suicide and car bombers. In April, the Libyan leader spoke by video to a conference at Columbia University where he said America could learn from his country - where citizens don't actually hold elections - about democracy.

Yesterday, Daniel Cohen, the father of Theodora who was murdered in the Pan Am 103 bombing, said that some of the families of the victims of that act were considering a protest of Libya's formal embassy when it opened. "We are considering something, some sort of a protest," he said. "Maybe I will spit on a few diplomats as they walk in."

Meanwhile, there is a meeting with a deputy assistant secretary of state, to explain the decisions on America's new relationship with Libya, with the families scheduled for May 24. Mr. Ammerman yesterday said he would probably not attend. "They are sending an underling, a sacrificial lamb," he said. "I don't know if I will waste my time."