INTERVIEW - Libya-U.S. ties warming, some issues remain - Gaddafi son

  • World
  • Monday, 30 Jul 2007

By William Maclean

NICE, France (Reuters) - Libya's ties with America are improving but some issues still block full normalisation despite the release of six foreign medics in a move long sought by the West, Muammar Gaddafi's influential son said on Monday. 

In a Reuters interview, Saif al-Islam added that a deal with the European Union (EU) for the medics' release cleared the way to full normalisation with the 25-nation bloc and provided for an easing of travel curbs and unfettered access to Europe for Libyan farm and fish exports. 

Saif al-Islam, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Nice July 30, 2007. (REUTERS/Gilbert Tourte)

"With the EU, yes I think we abolished the last obstacle in order to have a fully normal relationship," Islam said, speaking on a visit to France. "With the Americans of course it's better, and it's getting better and better, but we still have issues." 

Asked to name some of the problems, he said "La Belle" -- a reference to a Berlin discotheque where three people were killed and 200 wounded in a 1986 bombing Washington blamed on Libya. 

He added without elaborating: "Still we have files that are not closed with the Americans such as La Belle. We need to talk more and negotiate to close those files." 

The north African country entered into a settlement agreement last year with victims of the Berlin bombing but implementation of the accord has yet to be completed. 

The medics, convicted of deliberately infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV, were freed on July 24 after a deal between Tripoli and the EU ended their eight-year ordeal. 

Their return to Bulgaria closed what Libya's critics called a human rights scandal and advanced the long-isolated north African's efforts to normalise its ties with the West. 

The medics had at one point been condemned to death but have always said they were innocent and had been tortured to confess. 

Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov pardoned the five nurses and a Palestinian doctor, who recently took Bulgarian citizenship, after they arrived in Sofia on a French jet. 


Libya has protested against the pardon, saying that this went against earlier accords with Sofia. 

But Islam said the pardon was a long-anticipated move. 

"It was obvious from the beginning that the Bulgarians were going to pardon the medics. And when we said that the Libyan officials are surprised I think I was surprised because they shouldn't be surprised, because they know that they are going to pardon them." 

Islam said the Libya-EU partnership deal would take some time to put in place but the broad lines, such as easier travel, were very encouraging. He added: "The main issues are there like the visas and abolishing the tariffs on our agricultural goods and fish, which are the most important thing for us. 

"From now on it will be easier for Libyans to travel and in return we should push very hard to abolish visa requirements for European citizens, then Europeans can travel to Libya without a visa. ... These are very important if you want to have tourists coming to Libya and if you want to have business people coming back and forth." 

Asked about German outrage over a French offer of nuclear cooperation for Libya, Islam said it appeared to be a case of German jealousy. 

French President Nicolas Sarkozy signed a memorandum of understanding for a nuclear energy deal with Libya during a visit last week that was aimed at deepening ties with Tripoli. 

Sarkozy's move angered a number of German lawmakers who see it as part of the Frenchman's "go-it-alone" approach to foreign policy. 

"I think the Germans are just jealous because of the deal with France," said Islam. "And actually the French president took all the credit and the Germans are just jealous. They cannot have any other explanation." 

France's Areva has been tipped to supply a nuclear reactor to Libya to supply drinking water from sea water. Sarkozy has justified the Libyan nuclear offer by saying the West should trust Arab states to develop such technology for peaceful purposes or risk a war of civilisations. 

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