Leaders of Britain, France to Visit Libya Thursday

Posted September 14th, 2011 at 8:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Libya's interim government says the leaders of Britain and France will travel to the North African nation Thursday, becoming the first foreign heads of state to visit the country since the overthrow of former leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Senior officials from Libya's National Transitional Council said British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil in the capital, Tripoli, before traveling to the eastern city of Benghazi.

Neither London nor Paris offered any official confirmation of the visit.

Britain and France pushed for NATO action to protect civilians against forces loyal to Mr. Gadhafi, and the French were the first to recognize the NTC as the official representative of the Libyan people.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also scheduled to visit Libya on Thursday as part of a North African tour.

Meanwhile, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, Jeffrey Feltman, assured Libyans that the Obama administration will respect the country's sovereignty, saying the future of Libya “is in the hands of its people.”

He said he is monitoring the growing influence of Islamists on Libya's more secular leaders but does not consider it a significant threat, adding that the new Libya will have to take into account many “different political trends.”

Feltman also told reporters that Washington already has people working with Libya's new rulers about the possible proliferation of conventional and non-conventional weapons, including dangerous chemicals like mustard gas. While he said shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles are of particular concern, he added that Libya's supplies of chemical weapons are secure.

Feltman – who met Wednesday with senior NTC members in Tripoli – is the highest ranking U.S. official to visit the country since provisional authority forces drove Mr. Gadhafi from power last month.

In New York Wednesday, Britain circulated a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would ease international sanctions against Libya and establish a U.N. mission there to help advise interim leaders on restoring security and preparing for democratic elections.

The proposal would unfreeze assets of two major Libyan oil companies and the country's central bank.

The six-month-old punitive measures were imposed on Libya when Mr. Gadhafi initiated a deadly crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators across the country. Diplomats said they are hoping for a vote by the end of the week.

The developments came a day after the World Bank recognized the NTC and said it will work to assist in Libya's transition. It also said it has been asked to examine the need for repairs to Libya's water, energy and transportation sectors, and to help the country's banking sector together with the International Monetary Fund.