Leaders of Britain, France Visit Libya for Talks

Posted September 15th, 2011 at 5:06 am (UTC-5)
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British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are in Libya for talks with the country's interim government, becoming the first foreign heads of state to visit the nation since the overthrow of former leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The two leaders, who arrived Thursday, were scheduled to hold talks with National Transitional Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil in Tripoli before traveling to the eastern city of Benghazi.

Mr. Cameron's office said he is expected to announce a new aid package for Libya.

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 this week 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. He said shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles are of particular concern, but 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. The former leader has not been seen since anti-Gadhafi forces seized the capital.

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.

Also Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said mass graves are being discovered in Libya on a weekly basis. The group said in a statement it is working to help ensure the proper handling of any human remains that are found, including those of more than 100 people found so far at a dozen sites in and around Tripoli.