TRIPOLI - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Libya on an unannounced visit on Tuesday aimed at cementing a strong U.S.-Libya partnership for the post-Gadhafi era.
Clinton arrived in Tripoli aboard a U.S. military aircraft to begin the one-day visit during which she was scheduled to hold talks with leaders from the National Transitional Council (NTC), meet Libyan civil society activists and visit with employees of the recently re-opened U.S. embassy in Tripoli.
She is the most senior American official to visit Libya since the revolt that dislodged Moammar Ghadafi after 42 years in power.
She will also announce a set of new programs designed to foster closer U.S.-Libyan ties including U.S. help for treating fighters wounded in Libya's insurrection, resuming student exchange programs and more help for Libya's effort to track down and destroy dangerous Gaddafi-era weaponry.
Clinton will meet senior officials from the interim National Transitional Council to offer help with securing missing weapons, encourage the development of non-oil industries and provide veterans of the conflict with medical care and education, U.S. officials told reporters.
The unannounced visit comes four days after gun battles in Tripoli between pro- and anti-Gadhafi fighters, in the worst violence in the capital since opposition forces took charge in late August. An ongoing struggle for Gadhaifi's hometown of Sirte, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) east of Tripoli, has delayed preparations for a democratic transition and raised fears of prolonged resistance and disunity.
Clinton will talk with NTC officials including Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril and Finance and Oil Minister Ali Tarhouni about the need to stand by their commitments to democracy and the rule of law, U.S. officials told reporters accompanying the diplomat. Libya’s interim ruling council has proposed holding elections for a 200-member national congress eight months after the end of hostilities. The congress would draft a constitution, setting the stage for multi-party elections.
Clinton will announce as much as $10 million in additional aid to help locate and disable weapons and munitions unaccounted for since the conflict began in February, according to two officials who spoke to reporters on condition they not be named since the announcements haven’t been made yet.
The U.S. has expressed concern that shoulder-fired, heat- seeking missiles may become available to terrorist groups on the black market. The State Department says surface-to-air missiles have been used in more than 40 attacks against passenger jets around the world since the 1970s. The U.S. estimates Gadhafi acquired some 20,000 of these weapons over the past 40 years.
“We’re very concerned about the threat that’s posed,” assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, Andrew Shapiro, said Oct. 14 in Brussels.
A State Department weapons specialist and 14 contractors, many with military experience, are on the ground assisting Libyan teams, and have helped search 20 of 36 known weapons depots and disabled hundreds of missiles, State Department officials said. The U.S. plans to increase the number of advisors from 14 to 50, officials said.
U.S. officials said Clinton will also raise concerns about former Gadhafi intelligence officer Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed 270 people in 1988. Scottish authorities allowed Al-Megrahi to return to Libya in 2009 on compassionate medical grounds.
Clinton will also discuss the economy with leaders of the ruling council, who have told their U.S. counterparts they want to broaden the country’s economic base and eliminate the cronyism that characterized the oil industry under Gadhafi, a U.S. official traveling with Clinton said. The transitional leadership has pledged to honor all Gadhafi-era oil contracts.
Libya’s economy was state-run under Gadhafi, and transitional leaders believe privatizing state monopolies may be an engine for diversification and growth, the U.S. official said.
Another key component of Clinton’s visit will be to meet the council’s request for medical assistance for 15,000 veterans of the conflict, including 1,500 amputees, according to United Nations estimates.
Clinton will announce a public-private U.S. initiative to provide spare parts and chemicals for Libyan medical equipment, transportation to U.S. hospitals for the most seriously wounded, and assistance in creating a computerized medical records system to track patient care, according to State Department officials. To date, the U.S. has provided more than $135 million in assistance to Libyan civilians and the rebel council, according to State Department figures.
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