Australia: New Ties with Libya

Australia is seeking to re-establish diplomatic ties with Libya after 15 years of estrangement stemming from Tripoli's involvement in the South Pacific. Speaking June 2 on Australia's Channel Nine Sunday program, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the government was discussing its plans with several other nations as well as with Libya, and said Canberra was "satisfied that the Libyans aren't any longer actively involved in promoting terrorism." Downer's comments come in spite of Washington's continued insistence that Libya belongs to the "axis of evil" and is actively seeking weapons of mass destruction. Yet the U.S. State Department apparently is not objecting to Canberra's plans, according to the BBC. One explanation for Australia's move to rebuild ties with Libya is pressure from Australian exporters, who reportedly are concerned that Tripoli is treating them less respectfully than it does businesses from nations with full diplomatic relations. Yet this cannot be the entire story. According to Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian exports to Libya during the 2000-2001 fiscal year amounted to just $20 million, putting Libya at No. 75 on the list of Australian export destinations. Such a small amount of trade would not likely have a major impact on Australia's foreign policy. Canberra's foreign policy has always been more inclined toward free trade, and Australia has rarely shown enthusiasm for U.S.-backed sanctions regimes against other nations. This, coupled with the minor impact on current trade and the potential for Australian oil firms to get a toehold in Libya's oil and gas infrastructure development, may better explain Canberra's resurgent interest in Libya.

Henry L. Marconi PRAVDA.Ru Sydney, Australia

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