Condoleezza Rice set for historic Libya visit, meeting Gaddafi

Other News Materials 5 September 2008 07:08 (UTC +04:00)

Condoleezza Rice travels to Libya on Friday, the first trip there by a U.S. secretary of state in 55 years, signaling improved ties between the two countries, reported Reuters.

Relations began to warm after Libya gave up its weapons of mass destruction program in 2003, but Rice held back on visiting the former pariah state until a compensation package was signed last month to cover legal claims involving victims of U.S. and Libyan bombings.

In her brief trip, Rice is set to meet Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and share Iftar with him -- the meal for breaking the fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Once called "the mad dog of the Middle East" by President Ronald Reagan, U.S. officials said Rice was looking forward to the encounter with Gaddafi and planned, among other issues, to raise human rights concerns as well as regional conflicts in Chad, Sudan and the recent coup in Mauritania.

Her spokesman Sean McCormack called the trip to Libya a "historic stop". The last secretary of state to go there was John Foster Dulles in May 1953, before Rice was even born.

Rice, who is going to Libya after an overnight stop in Lisbon, Portugal, is also expected to push Gaddafi on the compensation deal signed on August 14.

No funds have been paid into it yet but lead U.S. negotiator with Libya, David Welch, said he was optimistic it would happen soon.

Libya finalized legalities to set up the fund on Wednesday and one senior U.S. official said it would take "more than days" before enough money was in the account and payments could be made to both sides.