Libya’s media hints at better ties with US

TRIPOLI (AP) — A thaw in US-Libyan relations was well under way, Libyan newspapers reported Sunday, after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met her Libyan counterpart on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

“Both sides expressed satisfaction with the improvement of relations between the two countries,” the Al-Fajr Al Jadeed daily reported after Rice’s meeting with Foreign Minister Abdurahman Shalgam on Saturday.

The Al Shams newspaper reported both sides said it was “necessary to increase such meetings and intensify visits.” The leading Green March newspaper said Rice and Shalgam discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. On the topic of Sudan’s war-ravaged west, Rice and Shalgam both said the African role should be boosted, the paper reported.

After more than two decades of hostility, Washington restored formal diplomatic relations with Libya earlier this year and removed it from the State Department’s list of terror sponsors. That was after Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi’s historic decision to renounce weapons of mass destruction and engage the world — something US officials have pointed to as a model for other nations.

Still, Rice has no plans for a high-profile trip to Tripoli to inaugurate a new US embassy. The United States quietly upgraded its small diplomatic office in Tripoli to an embassy this summer, but has held no formal ceremony to mark the occasion.

On Thursday, Libyan newspapers highlighted Shalgam’s meeting with US President George W. Bush in New York.

“The American president sends his warm wishes to the brother leader,” read a headline in The Green March, referring to Gadhafi.

Bush “expressed his satisfaction with the improvement of relations between America and the Great Jamahiriya [Libya], and he said his country is keen to strengthen these relations and develop it in all fields,” the Green March said in a front-page report alongside a picture of the US president — a rarity in Libya.

One of the major sticking points between Washington and Tripoli is the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 that killed 270 people, mostly Americans. Libya was held responsible, and some legal issues in the case remain unresolved.

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