WASHINGTON # A U.S. diplomat has been sent to Tripoli, establishing the first diplomatic presence in Libya in decades, a State Department official said Tuesday.
“We presently have one U.S. diplomat in Tripoli to assist the U.S. WMD experts in Libya removing weapons of mass destruction from the country,” the official said.
The diplomat is working out of the U.S. interests section in the Belgian Embassy, the official said.
In December, Libya announced it was halting its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. Its cooperation has helped unravel a global network of nuclear technology proliferation, culminating with the confession this month by Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist that he sold secrets.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said in late December that Libya’s nuclear program was in an early stage, but that it had bought components on the black market.
Libyan diplomats could soon be in the United States, working out of their interest section, officials have said. The United Arab Emirates is currently the Libyan protective power in the United States.
The U.S diplomat arrived in Libya after talks in London last week among Libyan, British and U.S. officials about the progress Libya has made in keeping its pledge to hand over its weapons of mass destruction, and what reciprocal gestures Tripoli could expect as a result.
A statement issued after the talks said U.S. and Libyan officials discussed “the possibility of assigning a small number of personnel to each other’s capitals given the absence of functioning embassies.”
Libya’s progress “has opened the door to better relations with the United States,” the statement said.
The statement added that the United States said could lift a ban on travel by U.S. citizens to Libya provided Tripoli continues to make progress on its commitment to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.
Administration officials have said the United States is likely to allow the passport ban to expire on February 24.
In coming weeks, the United States also could send an American medical and hospital assessment team to address Libya’s humanitarian situation and could welcome a team of Libyan educational specialists to the United States to “explore future educational exchanges,” the statement said.
It added that the United States will continue its assistance to Libya in dismantling its weapons programs and could support economic modernization and other reforms in Libya.
Libya has been trying to end its international isolation for several years.
Last year it agreed to pay $2.7 billion to relatives of the 270 people killed when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up by a Libyan agent in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Early this year, it also agreed to pay $170 million in compensation to the families of 170 people killed in the 1989 bombing of a French UTA airliner.
Easing sanctions could allow U.S. oil companies, including Oasis Group, which includes Marathon Oil Co., ConocoPhillips and Amerada Hess Corp., to resume activities in Libya, which they had to abandon when expanded U.S. sanctions forced them to pull out in 1986.
European oil firms such as France’s Total and Italy’s Agip have exploited the lack of competition from the U.S. to sign lucrative deals in Libya, which produces about 1.4 million barrels a day and is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
The United States banned imports of Libyan oil and some exports to Libya in 1982 following a deterioration of relations.
Sanctions were expanded after the 1986 bombing of a Berlin, Germany, disco to include a total ban on direct import and export trade, commercial contracts, and travel-related activities.