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Research Report

U.S.-Libyan Relations:: Toward Cautious Reengagement

Chester A. Crocker
C. Richard Nelson
Copyright Date: Apr. 1, 2003
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 42
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. v-vi)
    Christopher J. Makins

    U.S.-Libyan relations have a long and sometimes volatile history dating back to 1800 when U.S. marines were fighting the Barbary pirates on the “shores of Tripoli.” However, the latest violent chapter in the relationship may soon be closed with the final resolution of the Pan Am 103 bombing, which has been the primary focus of U.S. policy toward Libya for more than a decade.

    During the period in which U.S. policy has been focused on the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, many other elements that frame the context for U.S. policy in the region have changed. Accordingly, the Atlantic...

  2. (pp. 1-4)

    U.S. interests in relation to Libya have remained consistent through four Administrations. The United States goals have been to:

    end Libyan support for terrorism;

    prevent Libya from obtaining weapons of mass destruction; and

    contain Libya’s regional ambitions, at least those that run counter to U.S. interests.

    Since Libya has disengaged from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, U.S. interest has shifted toward encouraging Libya to play a constructive role in bringing about peaceful resolutions to African regional conflicts.

    While not explicitly cited in U.S. policy pronouncements, several other issues that relate to Libya are important to the United States, such as energy security,...

  3. (pp. 4-9)

    In developing a new strategy for dealing with Libya, close attention is needed to the interests of other key states that were instrumental in the success of earlier efforts. The chances of success of any strategy increase to the extent that other states, particularly the major European powers, cooperate.

    Italy has strong political and economic interests in Libya, in large part as a result of the colonial legacy. Current political relations between Italy and Libya are good and Italy sees economic relations between the two countries as very promising. However, a breakthrough in economic relations remains contingent on the settlement...

  4. (pp. 9-21)

    The aggressive Libyan strategy in the 1970s and 1980s and the U.S. response led to escalation and armed confrontations. Libya was probably behind the attempted assassination of the U.S. ambassador in 1976 and the ransacking of the U.S. embassy in Tripoli in 1979. Libyan involvement in the dramatic terrorist attacks on the Rome and Vienna airports resulted in the deaths of several U.S. citizens in 1985. Other incidents included military clashes in the Gulf of Sidra, when U.S. ships and aircraft challenged Libyan sovereignty claims.⁸ In 1986 Libyan agents were accused of bombing a Berlin nightclub that killed two U.S....

  5. (pp. 21-23)

    Taken together, the full set of laws and regulations that govern U.S. relations with Libya constitute an implicit strategy of isolation.18 For the most part, they were put in place in the 1980s, during the Cold War when Libya was closer to the Soviet Union and had undertaken a wide range of hostile acts against the United States and other countries under the mantle of “anti-imperialism”.

    However, the Cold War is over and Libya no longer represents the threat that it once did. Furthermore, the likely final resolution of the Pan Am 103 bombing and the on-going war on terrorism...