(photo credit: Associated Press)
The United States has decided to restore normal diplomatic relations with Libya for the first time in over a quarter century after taking Moammar Gadhafi's country off a US list of state sponsors of terrorism, State Department officials said.
A formal announcement was expected Monday.
The move culminates a process that began three years ago when Tripoli surprised the world by agreeing to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
There have been no normal relations with Libya since 1980. The State Department for several years listed Libya among nations the US government considered as official sponsors of terrorism.
Libya was held responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, which claimed 270 lives, most of them American.
But Libya has made a decisive move away from terrorism in recent years, officials said.
The State Department was going to announce that it will open an embassy in Libya, upgrading the current US liaison office in Tripoli, said a State Department official.
They will also announce they intend to remove Libya from the list of countries the United States considers to be state sponsors of terrorism. That means that a 45-day public comment period will begin on Monday, after which Libya would be removed from the list. The official described the announcement on condition of anonymity because the official announcement had not yet been made.
The establishment of normal relations may have come sooner were it not for allegations that Gadhafi's regime was behind an attempt on the life of Saudi's Arabia's King Adbullah when he was crown prince several years ago.
Hints that a US move was afoot were evident when the State Department decided to summon family members of the victims of the Pan Am 103 to Washington for a briefing next week on "US-Libyan relations."
The administration's decision also comes at a time when it is attempting to shore up relations with major oil producers because of high prices and a shortage of supplies. Libya has substantial oil reserves.
Gadhafi was once known here as perhaps the most dangerous man in the Middle East. President Reagan ordered air attacks against Libya in 1981 and 1986, the latter because of suspected Libyan sponsorship of a terrorist attack at a West Berlin disco frequented by American soldiers. Two Americans died there.
Since 2003, however, Libya has been held up as a model by the administration for the way aspiring nuclear weapons powers should behave.
The American attack on Iraq made Gadhafi wonder whether he would be next. In December 2003, he agreed to surrender his weapons of mass destruction facilities and agreed to allow them to be shipped for storage in the United States.
Rep. Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, said the administration's decisions were fully warranted.
"Libya has thoroughly altered its behavior by abolishing its program to develop weapons of mass destruction and ending its support for terrorism," Lantos said.