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Late Congressman Lantos Praised Libya’s ‘Major Gesture for Peace’

Leaked State Department cables detail American-Libyan cooperation and friendly visits of congressman and senators.

by
John Rosenthal

Bio

March 23, 2011 - 11:28 pm

Just as Muammar al-Gaddafi insisted for weeks that the rebels he is fighting in eastern Libya are linked to al-Qaeda, so too did he insist that he had been a reliable partner of Western nations: in particular, in the war on terror. And just as his warnings about the strongholds of the rebellion in eastern Libya are borne out by a study of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point (see my report here), so too are his assurances about the Libyan government’s cooperative relationship with the West borne out by leaked State Department cables.

All the issues commonly cited by American commentators as evidence that Gaddafi is an enemy of the United States are issues that were resolved in multi-year negotiations between the United States and Libya leading up to the restoration of full diplomatic relations in 2006. Far from treating Libya as an enemy, a U.S. State Department cable from as recently as August 2009 describes the country as “a critical ally in U.S. counterterrorism efforts” and in stemming the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq.

The leaked State Department record of an August 2006 visit to Libya by the late U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos and former Senator Arlen Specter reads like a veritable love-fest of mutual admiration and support. Lantos in particular showers praise on the Libyans; whereas his Libyan interlocutors hold forth on various Middle East topics in terms that are largely indistinguishable from those of American foreign policy analysts — especially conservative or even indeed “neo-conservative” ones.

Lantos’s Libyan interlocutors included Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the then head of Libyan “external security” and current Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, and the head of Libyan military intelligence Abdullah Sanussi. In Western press accounts, Sanussi has been blamed for the repression of protests in Benghazi that allegedly sparked the eastern Libyan revolt.

The record of the August 2006 visit comes from the same collection of State Department cables that has been partially published by WikiLeaks and by selected media working with WikiLeaks. The cable in question, however, has not been published by WikiLeaks or any official WikiLeaks “media partner.” It has been published rather by the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. In December of last year, under still unclarified circumstances, Aftenposten obtained “unauthorized” access to the full collection of leaked State Department cables. The newspaper has been publishing cables on its website independently of WikiLeaks. (On Aftenposten and the State Department cables, see my report here.) The cable is available on the website of Aftenposten here.

In what the cable describes as a “an hour-long tête-à-tête” between Muammar al-Gaddafi and Congressman Lantos on August 22, the elder Gaddafi emphasized the dangers represented by the spread of radical Islamic “Wahabist” ideology in Saudi Arabia and exported from Saudi Arabia. In a joint meeting with Lantos and Specter the next day, military intelligence chief Sanussi returned to the same theme and asserted that there were links between the Saudi government and al-Qaeda. According to the cable, “Sanussi also took credit for the GOL [Government of Libya] putting Osama bin Laden on an Interpol watch list in 1997, showing that they had an inkling of events to come far in advance of 9/11.”

In an August 24 meeting with Musa Kusa, Lantos praised Libya’s “historic” 2003 decision to abandon its nuclear armaments program. This was the key decision that led to the normalization of U.S.-Libyan relations. Lantos predicted that “books will be written about” it. The full State Department summary of the meeting reads as follows:

In an August 24 meeting with Director of External Security Musa Kusa, Lantos called the difference between Iran and Libya “monumental” and predicted that books will be written about the historic decision Qadhafi took in giving up its WMDs. While Kusa seemed to agree, he expressed worry over the imbalance that was created with the changes in Iraq, tipping the scales towards Iran. “Iran and Iraq used to balance each other out…now, there is no balance.” He said the Libyans were “sure that the Iranians are enriching uranium and making a bomb,” adding that events in Lebanon are really just an “Iranian-Syrian game.” He also expressed a concern about the estimated 300 Libyans aiding the insurgency in Iraq: “We can´t control our own children. We are doing our best, but we uncover a new cell everyday.”

In a meeting with Muammar al-Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, Lantos praised a speech given by the younger Gaddafi on political and economic reforms and freedom of the press, telling him “I was very proud of your speech.” Saif al-Islam, however, expressed doubts about whether Libya might not be “let down” by the United States after abandoning weapons systems. Lantos vigorously denied this, insisting that the U.S. government “truly appreciates” what the Libyan government has done and inviting Saif al-Islam to join him on a trip to North Korea in order to “share Libya’s story of giving up WMDs.” Lantos described the latter decision as a “major gesture for peace globally.” The full State Department summary of the exchange reads as follows:

Seif, who took a passive role during most of the meeting, then queried Lantos about Iran, stating that the Iranians are telling the GOL that “the Americans are playing a game with you” and will refuse allow replacement of Libya´s SCUD missiles, instead stripping the GOL of its weaponry. “They have told us that the Americans will let us down.” Representative Lantos countered that those assertions are untrue and that the USG truly appreciates what the GOL has done in abandoning its WMD program. Seif then asked about the disarmament of Hizballah, which Lantos replied is a “must” as all countries must be in control of their own borders: “Nasrallah has set the development of Lebanon back years.” Lantos invited Seif to join him on his next trip to North Korea to share Libya´s story of giving up WMDs, a “major gesture for peace globally.”

The Hungarian-born Lantos served in the U.S. Congress from 1981 until his death in 2008. The Democratic congressman was the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in the Congress and he was a prominent defender of Israel. In June 2008, Lantos was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush.

In August 2009, Republican Senator John McCain led a delegation of four U.S. senators to meet with Muammar al-Gaddafi and other Libyan leaders in Tripoli. The other senators were Joseph Lieberman, Susan Collins, and Lindsey Graham. The State Department’s “Scene Setter” for the meeting has been published by the British daily The Telegraph in conjunction with WikiLeaks. The leaked cable is available online here.

The cable notes:

Libya’s decision to give up its WMD programs and to renounce its support for terrorism opened the door for a wide range of cooperation in areas of mutual concern. Libya has acted as a critical ally in U.S. counterterrorism efforts, and Libya is considered one of our primary partners in combating the flow of foreign fighters. Our strategic partnership in this field has been highly productive and beneficial to both nations.

Furthermore, the cable notes that “Libya has stated its number one priority, in return for relinquishing WMD, is a security guarantee by the U.S. against foreign aggression.”

The cable, which is signed by U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Joan Polaschick, concludes, “We look forward to welcoming you in the Libyan Jamahiriya.” The “Jamahiriya” is the official designation for the supposedly revolutionary popular form of government established by Muammar al-Gaddafi in Libya.

John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. You can follow his work at www.trans-int.com or on Facebook here.
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