Washington's new friend

THEY say there are no permanent friends and permanent enemies in politics, only permanent interests. The truism can be equally relevant in the ever-changing world of international relations.

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Published: Wed 30 Jun 2004, 9:50 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:30 AM

Some months ago, the idea of the United States cozying up to Libya's Gaddafi regime would have sounded outright ludicrous. However, if Washington has finally established diplomatic ties with Tripoli after 24 years, it is primarily thanks to geo-political interests of the United States. It is not as if Col Muammar Gaddafi has transformed himself overnight from a sinner into a saint. It is also difficult to believe that the Libyan decision to scrap its much-reviled and much-hyped Weapons of Mass Destruction programme could have led to the eventual thaw and softening of Washington. The response to Tripoli's decision to come clean on the WMD and mend its ties with the West was incredibly overwhelming.

If American senators and diplomats descended in droves on Tripoli soon after Libyan leader's overtures, President Bush's friend, Tony Blair of Britain, surprised both his supporters and detractors by dashing off to shake hands with Gaddafi. Then Washington took some bold steps to ease decades-old sanctions imposed on the `rogue' regime by President Reagan's administration. The United Nations naturally followed the suit. Even now, it is not Tripoli which has taken the lead in re-establishing diplomatic ties with Washington. It is the other way round.

That is why it is tempting to assume that there is more to this relationship than meets the eye. Apparently, the US is keen to further expand its area of influence in the Middle East. Since it has largely moved out of Saudi Arabia, the superpower is looking for new friends and allies in the volatile region and the more, the merrier. Besides, the oil-rich and largely underdeveloped Libya offers infinite potential for American and British investors and multinationals. Hence the uncharacteristic zeal to push ahead with the diplomatic initiative and upgrade relations with Libya in all respects.

From being one of the West's favourite whipping boys, Gaddafi has fast turned into a fellow traveller and someone the West can do business with. Of course, notwithstanding the factors inspiring Washington's newfound interest in Tripoli, the normalisation of bilateral relations is welcome. For one, the lifting of sanctions will make a decisive difference to the Libyan people and end their decades of isolation. It will allow the country to develop its vital oil infrastructure which has been crippled by the US-UN sanctions. The winds of change, we hope, will also change the lot of Libyan people who have suffered long under an autocratic regime. It is about time Gaddafi woke up to changing times.

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