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Libyan Writer Mohammed Saleh Buisier

Mohammed Buisier

The Washington Post
Monday, 29 December, 2003

No 'Business As Usual' With Libya

No 'Business As Usual' With Libya

By Mohammed Buisier
Monday, December 29, 2003; Page A17

Libya's announcement of its willingness to dismantle its program of weapons of mass destruction and to halt development of its nuclear program is a welcome turnaround by Moammar Gaddafi. President Bush's favorable response to the news is understandable, as it vindicates his resolve to deal with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction -- a resolve that undoubtedly had something to do with the Libyan leader's decision to take this course.

But while it is important to give Gaddafi a chance to prove his sincerity, it is equally important that the U.S. administration live by Ronald Reagan's axiom in his dealings with Mikhail Gorbachev: "Trust but verify." And it should be kept in mind that dismantling Gaddafi's arsenals of weapons of mass destruction and his nuclear program will not prevent him from covertly continuing his financial support to terrorist groups and disruptive elements in Africa, neighboring Arab states and elsewhere. Moreover, the U.S. administration should heed the pronouncements Gaddafi made just over a month ago concerning the Iraqi guerrilla warfare (presumably while this latest deal was being negotiated). In statements reported by the Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on Oct. 31, Gaddafi referred to "foreign forces passing through one Arab state to destroy another state . . . .destroying homes . . . .killing children . . . . making women homeless . . . ." He concluded that "the only option available to Iraqis is the resistance: to kill or be killed." In his usual dramatic manner, Gaddafi announced that Libya would pull out of the Arab League to mark his disgust at Arab inaction while "the Arab home remains violated like it is now" by foreign forces.

Not long before this statement, his son Saif Islam revealed to a Swiss magazine that there are Libyan volunteers who go to Iraq to fight U.S. forces there. There have also been reports of a recruitment and training center outside Tripoli for volunteers who are then transported in small groups to Syria and on to Iraq.

Bush hailed Libya's announcement as a "path to better relations with the United States and other free nations." But this is not sufficient to allow Libya to rejoin "other free nations." If one is to take seriously Bush's commitment to promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East, moving Libya in that direction remains a challenge.

Gaddafi undoubtedly is hoping that his change of heart on the weapons programs will exempt him from making domestic changes that directly benefit the Libyan people and that he can thus maintain his iron grip and authoritarian rule. The United States already suffers from a credibility deficit in the eyes of human rights and democratic activists in the Arab countries, who doubt its commitment to seeing freedom and democracy prevail there. If the Bush administration now welcomes back a dictator and proceeds to deal with him in a "business as usual" manner, it will undermine its credibility further and shake the trust not only of Libyan but all other Arab reformers and activists who share its values of freedom and democracy.

Despite his overtures to the United States, Gaddafi has yet to account for his crimes against Libyans and others. He should not just get away, literally, with murder by surrendering his weapons of mass destruction and nuclear programs and by paying blood money (in the tribal tradition) to the families of the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing. The United States would be serving its interests and those of the human rights and democracy community the world over if it were to send not only weapons inspectors but human rights monitors to Libya. Gaddafi has still to answer for the disappearance not only of hundreds of Libyans but of the revered Lebanese Shiite cleric Moussa Sadr and the Libyan human rights activist Mansour Kikhya. President Bush has said: "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty." By the same token, Libya and the Arab countries cannot remain for another 60 years, in Bush's words, "a place where freedom does not flourish, a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export."

The writer is communications and public relations officer of the American Libyan Freedom Alliance.

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