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 protested over what it called ill-informed comments on Libya by a State Department official, "saying if no measure is taken, that would have a negative impact on political and economic relations between the two countries," 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.

The report did not say what comments the U.S. official had made, but said they were about a speech Gaddafi made last week in the city of Benghazi when he called for a "jihad," or armed struggle, against Switzerland.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley made comments on Gaddafi's speech during a Feb. 26 press briefing in Washington, according to a transcript posted on the State Department's Internet site.

Crowley drew a parallel with Gaddafi's 1 hour and 35 minute address to the United Nations last year.

"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.

Underlining the growing U.S.-Libyan business ties, 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 one of Gaddafi's sons 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.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Giles Elgood)

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