U.S. renews diplomatic ties with Libya
Reports that Gadhafi plotted against Saudi prince a concern
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States resumed direct diplomatic ties with Libya on Monday after 24 years, the State Department said.
Assistant Secretary of State William J. Burns formally opened a U.S. liaison office in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, marking the highest-level U.S. diplomatic presence in the country since 1980.
The announcement was made after meetings between top State Department officials and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The U.S.-Libyan relationship has been steadily improving since Gadhafi's promise in December to dismantle the country's weapons of mass destruction, eliminate its longer-range missile programs and end its cooperation with terrorists.
But the Bush administration's investigation of a report that Gadhafi plotted to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah cast doubts on how soon the two countries would move toward an exchange of ambassadors, which would signify the full resumption of relations.
Burns was joined in talks with Gadhafi in Tripoli by Cofer Black, who heads the State Department's counterterrorism office, and other U.S. officials, according to a State Department statement issued Monday.
Praising Libya's cooperation with the international community on dismantling its weapons programs, the statement said the United States "underscored that Libya was setting a standard for others to follow."
The United States imposed travel and other restrictions on Libya in the early 1980s and added broad sanctions in 1986 after Libya was blamed for the bombing of a disco in Berlin, Germany, that killed two U.S. servicemen and a Turkish woman, and wounded 229, including 79 Americans.
The sanctions were expanded by the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996, which cited Libya's failure to comply with U.N. resolutions, support of terrorism and efforts to acquire WMD.
Libya accepted responsibility last year for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, and is to pay compensation to the families of the 270 victims.
While noting Libya's attempts to resolve the Pan Am 103 bombing issue and its commitment to support the war on terrorism, the statement said the U.S. team also addressed the report that the Libyan government was involved in a plot to kill Abdullah.
Reiterating comments by U.S. officials, the statement called on Libya to "repudiate violence for political purposes and to implement its pledge to cease all support for terrorism."
Earlier this month, President Bush said the United States was investigating the report. Saudi Arabia was likewise investigating, according to law enforcement authorities in the kingdom. Libya said the report was false. (Full story)
Some U.S. officials have said that though there is no conclusive proof, there are some indications that the report might have merit.
"We do not have enough to make a conclusive judgment, I think, one way or the other," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.
He added that if the report was found to be true, "it would call into question continued development of relations with Libya."
A senior State Department official said, "There is a law enforcement and intelligence investigation going on."
"The jury is far from out," the official said.
Investigators were following up on information from two prisoners -- an American Muslim leader in jail in Virginia and a Libyan intelligence officer held in Saudi Arabia, according to U.S. and Saudi authorities.
Law enforcement sources in the United States and Saudi Arabia said Abdurahman Alamoudi, the American prisoner, told investigators he met with Gadhafi in June and August of last year to discuss details of the assassination plot.
"Dr. Alamoudi is waiting his day and is cooperating with U.S. authorities on a variety of issues of concern to the U.S.," Alamoudi's attorney Stanley Cohen told CNN earlier this month.
"He is shocked over the extent of the leaks coming from apparent sources in law enforcement or the intelligence community. It is something we are all concerned about."
As a revolutionary who overthrew the Libyan monarchy, Gadhafi is said to regard the Saudi monarchy with contempt. The crown prince is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.
The sources said it was not clear how serious or consistent the Libyan leader might have been about trying to have Abdullah killed.
In April, the Bush administration lifted most U.S. sanctions against Libya, opening the way for U.S. investments and commercial activities.
The lifting of the sanctions means most commercial business, investment and trade with Libya is possible, but controls on exports to Libya are still maintained, in accordance with the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism list.
It also means the United States will no longer punish countries that do business with Libya.
In February, the United States dropped its 23-year-old ban on travel to Libya by U.S. citizens and permitted Americans to spend money in the country.
But the State Department issued a revised travel warning Monday that says, "Although Libya appears to have curtailed its support for international terrorism, it may maintain residual contacts with some of its former terrorist clients" and remains on the state sponsors of terrorism list.
The travel warning noted the new liaison office has "no consular officer included among the staff. Thus, due to limited staffing and interim facilities, only limited services are currently available to U.S. citizens."
The warning added that in light of previous worldwide cautions saying terrorists continue to plan attacks against U.S. interests in the region, "U.S. citizens are urged to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness" when traveling to Libya.
Libya announced in December it had engaged in researching programs of mass destruction and promised to scrap them.
Although U.S. and British intelligence had spoken at the time of an advanced program, the International Atomic Energy Agency initially described Libya's nuclear activities as at the beginning stage.
The lifting of the sanctions does not free Libya from the obligation to pay $2.7 billion, or $10 million per family, in compensation to the Lockerbie victims.
CNN's Elise Labott and David Ensor contributed to this report.