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U.S.-Libya Relations

Interviewee: Dana Moss, Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Interviewer: Stephanie Hanson, Associate Director and Coordinating Editor, CFR.org
September 10, 2009

Since the United States removed Libya from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list in 2006, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has taken a more assertive stance on the world stage. He currently holds the rotating presidency of the African Union, and this month will make his first visit to the UN General Assembly. Yet the controversial release (BBC) in August of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, a Libyan convicted for the Lockerbie bombing of 1988, has caused tension between the United Kingdom and the United States, and raised questions about the future of U.S.-Libya relations. Dana Moss, fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says the near-term effect on relations will depend on Qaddafi's behavior at the UN General Assembly. In the long term, however, the United States and Libya are both interested in a good relationship: The two countries share counterterrorism and business interests, and Libya's international profile hinges on maintaining positive relations with the United States.

Moss points out that Libya has been "quite helpful" to the United States on intelligence sharing and establishing an aid corrider in the Darfur region of Sudan. However, she notes that Qaddafi has been rhetorically problematic, speaking out against the benefits of engagement with the United States as well as democracy in Africa. "It would be helpful if he stopped undermining the U.S. push for reform on the continent," she says.

Some analysts have proposed that the U.S.-Libya rapprochement could serve as a model for improving relations with other rogue regimes. However, Moss points out that Libya's weapons of mass destruction program was much less advanced than those of Iran and North Korea, and there was political will in Libya for engagement. She also cautions that Libya's behavior in recent years show that "rapprochement on specific issues is not as soluble when the nature of the regime remains the same."

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