At a recent meeting with Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema in Tripoli, Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi joined Italy's leader in a strong denunciation of international terrorism. While Qadhafi has moved towards normalizing with many European nations, he has so far done little to bridge the gap with the United States, who has refused to lift 10-year old sanctions on Libya. But a December 3 statement, worded in language that seems to directly address America's voiced reasons for continuing the embargo, appears to be a clear overture for normalization of US-Libyan relations. But past statements provide subtle indications that Qadhafi, unless he is a schizophrenic, may have entirely different objectives as regards the United States.
The recent Qadhafi-D'Alema statement, released at the end of the first visit by a Western leader to Libya since 1992, emphasized the need to support international agreements on putting an end to terrorism. The statement read in part, "The two sides underscored the need to deny aid and protection to those responsible for terrorist acts and expressed the hope that further measures of co-operation can be adapted to prevent, contain and repress such acts," as reported by the BBC.
Despite an end to UN-imposed sanctions on Libya earlier this year and a normalization of relations with such Western policy-setters as Britain, the United States has refused to lift an embargo against what the U.S. State Department still considers a "rogue" nation. The recent Tripoli statement was obviously addressing the United States in saying, "Libya repeats the need for states to abstain from holding on to their preconceived ideas or to practise political discrimination." The statement makes Qadhafi appear anxious. And he has every reason to be. U.S. sanctions on Libya are reported to have so far cost Libya $26.5 billion.
But the D'Alema's visit is further evidence that Libya may not be in such dire need of U.S. leniency. An August 31 BBC analysis predicted that it may be U.S. oil companies, so far excluded from the exploitation of Libya's vast oil reserves where European competitors have been quick to stake their claim, that will eventually pressure the U.S. government to lift the sanctions. Libya seems to be doing well enough without U.S. patronage, with lucrative oil and gas and even manufacturing contracts with countries such as South Africa, Britain and Italy. Libya's economic prosperity is accentuated by a zero-percent unemployment rate, a 7.2 percent annual growth rate and Africa's largest standing army after Egypt. One product of the Italian PM's visit is the solidification of an agreement to build a pipeline from Libya underneath the Mediterranean to Europe.
Qadhafi has a well-documented history of fiery denunciations of America. For its part, the U.S. government has shown few signs of reversing policy on Libya. It therefore seems unlikely that Qadhafi's recent statement on terrorism is aimed at inducing America to lift the sanctions, though such a development would no doubt be welcome. The most visible recent example of Qadhafi's hatred of the American government came last month in an interview with London-based MBC. Qadhafi said America had turned "the whole of the Arab world ... into a colony... a colony which needs to be liberated with the gun, and not by other means," as quoted by Agence France Presse (AFP) on October 29. In the interview, Qadhafi reportedly said the world needed a "million Bin Ladens against America," a statement that seemed explicitly formulated to draw the ire of the U.S. government. Qadhafi has denounced Bin Laden himself as a product of the American CIA, and the Libyan leader has made it clear elsewhere that whatever opposition he has to terrorism, it is not necessarily voiced to appease the United States.
In the October interview with MBC, Qadhafi made another statement that could perhaps shed some light on Qadhafi's seemingly conflicting statements on terrorism. Qadhafi said, "The Arab nation is now living without dignity. We are now part of the under-developed countries who live without dignity, namely the Turkish nation, Russia, Japan and also Germany." Qadhafi is evidently trying to play on the latent uneasiness that many other countries no doubt have in the face of American ascendancy in the new unipolar world.
Far from being overly desirous of a thaw in U.S.-Libyan relations, it is possible that Qadhafi is trying to exploit his position as the victim of unjust American dominance to fan the flames of anti-American sentiment around the world. In this light, Qadhafi's statement on terrorism has the advantage of bolstering Qadhafi's image as a mature, rational leader. Additionally, it makes the U.S. government's reasoning for the continuance of sanctions appear flawed.
Libya's attempts to negotiate continued American antipathy are similar to those of Iran in the way Libya seems to be using the occasion of its opening up to Western countries other than America to emphasize America's evident irrationality. But like Iran, which has recently solidified economic agreements with Russia despite Russia's genocidal campaign in the Muslim republic of Chechnya, Libya too should perhaps be careful who it rubs shoulders with in the attempt to circumvent American hostility. Libya and Iran no doubt have legitimate grievances with the United States, but such valuable voices in the developing world should ask themselves whether countries such as Russia would behave any better if it had America's position of ascendancy.
In the interest of those countries that continue to suffer from Western dominance of their politics, culture and economy, it is hoped that developing world nations that are not in such dire straits -- such as Iran and Libya -- do not sell out their ideals of developing-world solidarity for the sake of a personal grudge against America.
Zakariya Wright is a regular contributor to iviews.com