Libya accepts U.S. apology over diplomatic row

  • World
  • Wednesday, 10 Mar 2010

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya signalled the end of a diplomatic row with the United States on Wednesday, saying it accepted an apology for acerbic comments made by a U.S. official and wanted to deepen relations in all fields.

The Libyan foreign ministry "states that it accepts the apology and strong regret shown by the State Department", it said in a statement obtained by Reuters.

The ministry said it "... welcomes resuming the exchange of visits between officials of the two countries and insists on its willingness to develop bilateral relations in all fields and within a framework of mutual respect."

U.S. energy firms including Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Hess, Marathon and Occidental have invested billions of dollars in Libya, home to Africa's largest proven oil reserves.

The row with Washington centred on a speech Gaddafi made last month calling for a "jihad" against Switzerland, with which Tripoli has a long-running dispute.

The word is often translated as meaning "armed struggle" but Libyan officials later said Gaddafi meant only a trade embargo.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Gaddafi's speech reminded him of a previous address by the Libyan leader, which, he said, involved "lots of words and lots of papers flying all over the place, not necessarily a lot of sense".

Libya responded by summoning the U.S. envoy in Tripoli to protest, and then warning U.S. energy firms they could suffer unless Washington apologised for the spokesman's remarks.

In Washington on Tuesday, Crowley apologised, telling reporters: "I understand that my personal comments were perceived as a personal attack on the president."

"These comments do not reflect U.S. policy and were not intended to offend. I apologize if they were taken that way."

Earlier on Wednesday, the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper quoted Shokri Ghanem, head of Libya's state energy firm NOC, as saying that the diplomatic row had prompted Libya to start looking for new energy partners.

Libya, which spent decades under international sanctions until it renounced weapons of mass destruction in 2003, is still locked in a dispute with most European countries over entry visas that is linked to the Swiss row.

(Reporting by Ali Shuaib in Tripoli; Additional reporting by Lamine Chikhi in Algiers; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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