Surprise Support From Gadhafi

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks about Arab soldiarity during a gathering of intellectuals in Damascus, Syria Sunday, Oct. 8, 2000. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi)
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's expressions of support for the United States show not merely his desire for better relations, but also his own worry about militant Islam, Libyan analysts say.

Gadhafi quickly condemned last week's attacks in New York and Washington as "horrifying." On Sunday, he went further. "The U.S.A. has the right to take revenge," he said on Libyan television. He urged citizens to donate blood for the victims.

Although Gadhafi questioned what America could gain from striking Afghanistan, his statement was an unprecedented endorsement of U.S. military action. In 1986, U.S. aircraft bombed Libyan military bases and alleged terrorist camps, killing 37 people, including Gadhafi's adopted daughter.

"Libya is trying to overcome the resistance which there seems to be in the U.S. toward a normalization of relations," said Professor Tim Niblock of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University on Monday. Libyans feel they have made substantial progress toward changing their image in Europe, "whereas in the U.S., that hasn't happened."

Saad Djabbar, an analyst at the North African Studies Center at Cambridge University, said Gadhafi's remarks conformed to a series of Libyan moves toward better relations with Washington, but they could still be seen as a "landmark gesture of sympathy and goodwill."

However, Washington will not easily be charmed by Gadhafi. Libya remains on the State Department list of terrorist-supporting nations. In July, Congress renewed U.S. sanctions on Libya and Iran for another five years.

Gadhafi "is certainly saying the right thing at the right time so far as American opinion is concerned," Niblock said. "But, at the same time, one has to recognize that Libya does have a long way to go."

Djabbar said Monday there is potential for Libya and America to close ranks in the fight against terrorism.

"Libya does not belong to the camp of (Osama) bin Laden," Djabbar said, referring to the Afghanistan-based extremist who is the prime suspect in last week's attacks.

"The politicians in Libya will tell you that maybe the fiercest threat they face is the Islamists ... I think here you might have some sort of de facto alliance between the United States and Libya itself."

Niblock said some disturbances in eastern Libya in the late 1990s stemmed from Arabs who had fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Libyans who had been trained in Afghanistan in some of the camps used by Osama bin Laden.

"So it's really not surprising that Gadhafi comes out against what they're doing."

By Jaspar Mortimer
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