Libyan foreign minister says U.S. move matter of mutual interest

The restoration of U.S.-Libyan diplomatic relations serves the "mutual interests" of both the United States and Libya , the country's foreign minister told The Associated Press on Monday. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the move in a statement released at the State Department. Washington also said it was removing Tripoli from its list of nations that sponsor terrorism.

"It was a result of contacts and negotiations. It is not unilateral. It is a result of mutual interests, agreements and understandings," said Foreign Minister Abdurrahman Shalgham, without elaboration. The announcement culminates a process that began three years ago, when Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi surprised the world by agreeing to dismantle his country's weapons of mass destruction programs and have them shipped for storage in the United States .

"As a direct result of those decisions we have witnessed the beginning of that country's re-emergence into the mainstream of the international community. Today marks the opening of a new era in U.S.-Libya relations that will benefit Americans and Libyans alike," Rice said. Some in Washington credited the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003 with having convinced Gadhafi that he, too, could be in danger of U.S. military action.

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. "In politics there is no such thing as a reward but there are interests," Shalgham said when asked if the U.S. decision was an incentive for further Libyan cooperation.

"This will certainly open a new chapter in the relations of the two countries," he told the AP in a telephone interview. "It is a result of five years of negotiations." The U.S. opening to Tripoli did not meet with enthusiasm among some in the opposition community. "This doesn't help the Libyan people who are looking for international assistance to achieve their human rights," said Fayez Jibril of the Libyan National Congress.

"Col. Gadhafi will most certainly use this to tighten his hold on the Libyans who aspire for such simple things such as freedom of expression and freedom to have a constitution," Jibril said from his exile in neighboring Egypt . Rice's statement commended Libya for its "continued commitment to its renunciation of terrorism" and "excellent" cooperation in combating international terrorist organizations.

The two former antagonist had not had full diplomatic relations since 1980, although a thaw in long-standing hostility enabled Washington to open a diplomatic office in Libya in 2004. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said, "This is not a decision that we arrived at without carefully monitoring and assessing Libya 's behavior." Libya was held responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, which claimed 270 lives, most of them Americans.

"Today's announcement demonstrates that when countries make a decision top adhere to the norms of international behavior they will reap the benefits," Welch said. 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 U.S. 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 "U.S.-Libyan relations." Gadhafi was once seen by Washington 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 , reports the AP.