Bush set to visit Libya
in first half of 2004

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

LONDON Libya is preparing for defense cooperation talks with the United States, leading to a visit by President Bush early next year.

Libyan officials said the United States has agreed to review Tripoli's defense requirements in wake of an agreement by Col. Moammar Khaddafy to eliminate his nation's medium-range missile and weapons of mass destruction arsenal. The officials said the two countries plan to begin formal talks on Libya's defense and security requirements over the next few months.

The officials said Britain and the United States will lift sanctions from Libya by April 2004. They said this would pave the way for a visit by U.S. President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Tripoli during the first half of next year.

"The United States has promised to protect us from any attack," Khaddafy's son, Seif Al Islam, said in an interview with the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat daily on Dec. 24.

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Al Islam, who is being groomed to succeed his father as Libya's ruler, said Tripoli and Washington have held defense cooperation talks, including the prospect of joint exercises, Middle East Newsline reported. But he denied immediate plans to renew such efforts.

In the interview, Al Islam said Libya will end the development program of a medium-range missile that can fly 800 kilometers. He said that in 1986 Tripoli canceled a plan to attack a U.S. military base in an island off Greece. The plan was to retaliate for a U.S. air strike earlier that year that he said killed more than 200 Libyans.

U.S. industry sources said Libya has discussed a range of projects with at least one American defense contractor. The sources said Tripoli has expressed interest in upgrading and replacing many of the aging U.S. military platforms procured in the 1970s. They include aircraft, helicopters and artillery.

Libyan officials, in an assertion echoed by Al Islam, said the Bush administration planned to send a U.S. military team to Tripoli to review Libya's defense needs. Al Islam said such a visit would take place soon.

"There will be a joint military and security cooperation agreement with the United States," Al Islam said.

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