WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States pressed Libya to take tough steps against terrorism financing in the highest-level U.S. trip to the North African country since sanctions were lifted, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.
Stuart Levey, the U.S. Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in written testimony for a Senate banking committee hearing that he had traveled last month to oil-rich Libya, a pariah since the 1988 Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.
In a sign of renewed engagement, Levey met with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Finance Minister Mohammed Ali al-Houeiz, and Central Bank Governor Ahmed Mohammed Moneisi to discuss the fight against dirty money.
Levey "pressed Libya to adopt anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing reforms as it attempts to emerge from isolation and engage increasingly in the world's financial community," he wrote in his testimony.
He noted that while Libya's financial sector was still "in its infancy," the United States expected Tripoli to put the fight against terrorism financing and money laundering high on its agenda as part of an overall counterterrorism strategy.
After more than a decade of international isolation, Libya has been slowly coming in from the cold since 2003, when it accepted responsibility for a 1988 airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland and announced its decision to stop pursuing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
The United Nations lifted multilateral sanctions in 2003. The United States formally ended its own broad trade embargo on Libya in September 2004, but left in place some sanctions related to terrorism. Libya remains on a U.S. blacklist of states it accuses of sponsoring terrorism.
Libya's presence on the list bars it from receiving U.S. arms exports, controls sales of items with military and civilian uses, limits U.S. aid and requires Washington to vote against loans from international financial institutions.
As it re-enters the international fold, Libya is seeking to liberalize its socialist economy, and investment from countries like the United States is key. Libya launched a privatization program in 2003, offering to sell roughly 360 companies.
The move has attracted foreign interest, mostly in the energy industry. But officials have said foreigners have also been looking at banks and cement firms.
But some potential investors have voiced frustration at the slow pace of reform, saying Libya needed to address business hurdles such as time-consuming bureaucracy and a lack of independent arbitration mechanisms for contract disputes.