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Analysis: Blair visit a reward for Libya

Gadhafi a "typical Arab despot," according to Samore.
Do you agree with Tony Blair's decision to visit Libya?
Moammar Gadhafi
Great Britain
Tony Blair

(CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has met Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for historic talks. CNN anchor Monita Rajpal discussed the implications of the visit with Gary Samore, a senior fellow of the International Institute for Strategic Studies who previously advised the Clinton administration on weapons issues.

Rajpal: Is this visit a good thing?

Samore: I think so. Gadhafi has really taken some extraordinary steps to abandon his chemical and nuclear weapons program and to join the West in fighting al Qaeda. In return both the British and American governments have promised that in exchange they will normalize political relations, lift economic sanctions, restore business ties. The prime minister's visit is a way of rewarding Gadhafi for the measures he has taken.

Rajpal: U.S. President Ronald Reagan once called Gadhafi "mad dog" and he has been treated as a pariah by the West. Why should Gadhafi be trusted now and why should Blair show Gadhafi is on their side?

Samore: So far the Libyans have carried through on the commitments they've made. They've allowed complete access to their secret chemical and nuclear facilities. They've allowed a lot of equipment and materials to be shipped out of Libya. And the Americans and British believe they're getting a full accounting of what those programs were. Obviously people will have to monitor the situation carefully to ensure there's no backsliding but it seems as though Libya really has carried out the agreement it made back in December.

Rajpal: The British are also getting good business contracts deals that could come out of Libya's lucrative industries.

Samore: I'm sure that both British and American oil companies will benefit from this political opening. Certainly they've been interested for a long in restoring business links, even while sanctions were in place. I would expect to see a rush of British and American firms to take advantage of this political development.

Rajpal: The visit comes just weeks after the Madrid bombs and while some of the relatives of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing have welcomed Blair's visit, some say Britain should not be re-establishing contact with Libya. What at the risks involved in the visit for Blair?

Samore: I can understand some of those concerns and fears, because 20 years ago the government of Libya was very actively engaged with terrorist actively, most famously the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 of the Scottish village of Lockerbie, which killed 270 people.

Blair: Possible risks

So it's understandable that people don't want to forget that. And it's also worth remembering that the person who was in charge of Libya then is still there now. So the greatest risk for Prime Minister Blair is if we see evidence that Libya is not sincere in cooperating against al Qaeda or is still harboring ambitions to develop nuclear and chemical weapons programs. But as long as that information doesn't come to light a strong case can be made that it's in British interests to reward Libya for the measures it's taken.

In the United States there is still obviously great sensitivity about Libyan terrorism though, and while U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns visited Libya this week, I do not expect to see Bush meeting Gadhafi this side of the U.S. election.

There are also human rights concerns in Libya too. Gadhafi is a typical Arab despot in that there is no political freedom in his country; no democracy and no free press. However, there is not the same level of political repression that there was in Iraq under Saddam Hussein or in Syria under Hafez Assad. There have also been no reports of mass killings, largely because Gadhafi has not had to put down large-scale revolts.

However, Gadhafi has come under pressure within his government to make moves on WMD and renouncing terrorism: he has been inching towards this position since at least 1998.

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