TRIPOLI, Libya (Reuters) – Libya welcomed Tuesday indications that the United States could lift many economic sanctions as early as this week, saying it would spur investment from U.S. and also other international firms.
U.S. officials said Monday that sanctions barring U.S. firms from investing and buying Libyan oil could be ended this week, but they said the date could slip. A Tripoli diplomatic source said the U.S. move could come as early as Thursday.
Ties between Washington and the oil-producing North African state have improved since Libya said in December it was giving up weapons of mass destruction and since Libya agreed last year to compensate victims of the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing.
Asked about the latest U.S. comments on sanctions, Economy Minister Abdel-Qader Omar Belkheir told Reuters: “We welcome this and we expect this to happen because this is why Libya has done all these initiatives and all these efforts.”
“So far Libya has done a lot of what we were committed (to), so we think it is time to lift these sanctions and we expect to have one more friend and to have the American (economic interests) as well back in Libya,” he said.
Belkheir was speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Tripoli to promote investment in Libya after years of international isolation.
About 400 delegates were attending from a range of countries, including several U.S. oil executives.
The Libyan government has announced wide-ranging measures to open up its highly centralized economy, including a sweeping privatization program, and has said it wants to join the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Also speaking on the conference sidelines, Libyan Finance Minister Mohammed Ali al-Houeiz told Reuters: “It (lifting sanctions) will be good for the prospect of expanding investment and trade in Libya.”
Belkheir said ending sanctions would encourage the transfer of U.S. technology and encourage those non-U.S. firms who have U.S. economic interests and have been reluctant to invest in Libya while the U.S. embargo is still in place.
“I think once these sanctions are lifted completely, it will help them (non-U.S. firms) take these decisions,” Belkheir said.
“As far as I know, still the only country which is not welcoming our joining the WTO is the United States, and I think…when the sanctions are lifted there is no problem in joining the WTO,” he said.
U.S. officials said the main sanctions imposed on Libya under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act were expected to be removed soon.
Among the biggest beneficiaries would be the U.S. oil companies in the Oasis Group of Marathon Oil Co, Amerada Hess and ConocoPhillips, which were forced out of Libya by the U.S. sanctions in 1986.
Occidental Petroleum Corp is also seeking to reactivate dormant operations in Libya.
Last August, Libya took responsibility for the bombing of the Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people and agreed to pay compensation worth a total of $2.7 billion to families of the victims.