WASHINGTON - The White House said yesterday that President Bush had removed U.S. restrictions on travel to Libya and would allow for a significant expansion of diplomatic dialogue with the country.
Officials said the action is warranted now that Libya has dismantled most of its nuclear infrastructure and reaffirmed its responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.
"While more remains to be done, Libya's actions have been serious, credible and consistent with Colonel Kadafi's public declaration that Libya seeks to play a role in building a new world free from [weapons of mass destruction] and from all forms of terrorism," the White House said in a statement yesterday.
The announcement had been expected since Libya's ruler, Col. Muammar el Kadafi, recently declared that his country was forsaking weapons of mass destruction. But the announcement was delayed after Libya's prime minister, Shukri Ghanem, declared several days ago that his country was not responsible for the Pan Am bombing and had agreed to pay damages to victims' families only in an effort to restore itself to international acceptance.
Ghanem's statements prompted a demand from the State Department for a retraction, and he was rebuked Wednesday by his own government.
Libya released a statement that quoted its August 2003 communication to the United Nations and said that the country "accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials."
The Libyan news service, Jana, said, "Recent statements contradicting or casting doubt on these positions are inaccurate and regrettable."
The Libyan retraction cleared the way for yesterday's White House announcement, which can be read in full at www.white house.gov.
Bush's move was hinted at by White House officials in December when Libya agreed to turn over its nuclear materials and reveal how it obtained them.
"They have met our requirements, and we will move forward from there," a senior Bush administration official said after the Libyan statement was released.
Once travel restrictions are lifted, Americans will be able to travel to Libya and spend money there. American oil companies will be able to negotiate contracts, which have long been barred.
"What this means in practical terms is that American citizens, for the first time in 23 years, will be able to travel to Libya, including for tourism, academic research and family visits," the White House said.
Trade with the country will still be restricted, at least until the nuclear program is completely dismantled.
Libyan diplomats will be able to work in Washington, running a Libyan interests section.
"The United States will approach relations with Libya on a careful, step-by-step basis," the White House said. "We have made clear that progress in our bilateral relationship will depend upon continued good-faith implementation by Libya of its own public commitments."