Libya issues warning on trade ties with USA


  • World
  • Wednesday, 03 Mar 2010

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya's Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. envoy on Wednesday to warn that ties will suffer if Washington does not apologise for caustic comments a U.S. official made about Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The Libyan Foreign Ministry said the remarks were ill informed and warned that if no apology was forthcoming, "that would have a negative impact on political and economic relations", the state-run Jana news agency reported.

U.S. energy companies including Exxon Mobil, Occidental and Hess have invested heavily in Libya, home to Africa's largest proven oil reserves, since the country emerged from decades of international isolation.

Tripoli appeared to have been angered by remarks U.S. Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley made about a speech by Gaddafi last week calling for a "jihad," or armed struggle, against Switzerland.

Crowley, speaking in a Feb. 26 press briefing in Washington, drew a parallel with Gaddafi's 1 hour and 35 minute address to the United Nations last year, according to a transcript of the briefing posted on the State Department's Internet site.

"It just brought me back to a day in September, one of the more memorable sessions of the U.N. General Assembly that I can recall -- lots of words and lots of papers flying all over the place, not necessarily a lot of sense," Crowley said.

ROCKY RELATIONS

U.S. aircraft bombed Tripoli in 1986 after Washington blamed Libya for a bomb attack on a West Berlin discotheque, one of several low points in relations between Libya and the United States since Gaddafi came to power in 1969.

Washington restored diplomatic ties and dropped a trade embargo in 2004 after Libya renounced banned weapons programmes.

Underlining the growing U.S.-Libyan business ties since then, the first official U.S. trade mission to Libya in years visited Tripoli last month. The delegation included executives from major U.S. companies keen to enter the Libyan market.

Libya is involved in a fierce diplomatic row with Switzerland which broke out in July 2008 when police in Geneva arrested Gaddafi's son Hannibal on charges -- which were later dropped -- of mistreating two domestic employees.

The dispute dragged in most European countries last month after Libya stopped issuing visas to citizens from the Schengen passport-free travel zone in retaliation for Swiss restrictions on giving entry visas to senior Libyans.

Soon after Gaddafi's son was arrested, Libya barred two Swiss businessmen from leaving the country. It later prosecuted them for immigration and other offences. Officials in Tripoli deny any link between their case and the incident in Geneva.

After police last month surrounded the Swiss embassy in Tripoli where the two businessmen had sought refuge, they surrendered to the Libyan authorities.

One of the two was allowed to go home while the other, Max Goeldi, is in a Libyan prison serving a four month sentence.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Michael Roddy)

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