The State Department Wednesday hailed progress made in restoring U.S.-Libyan relations but said where the process ends up depends on further steps by Libya on disarmament and cutting residual ties with terrorism.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns met Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli Tuesday in the highest-level contact in more than two decades.
The State Department says the goal of the U.S. Libyan dialogue is the restoration of a normal bilateral relationship. But it is cautioning that there is "a long way to go" in that process despite a series of advances since Libya's announcement in December that it was eliminating its weapons of mass destruction and long-range missile programs.
Tuesday's meeting between Mr. Burns and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was the highest level bilateral contact in more than 30 years, and the first meeting of any kind between the Libyan leader and a U.S. official since the United States closed its embassy in Libya in 1981.
Mr. Burns and a delegation of State Department and White House officials discussed the next steps in deepening political and economic ties in a visit to Tripoli that was not announced in advance. Mr. Burns praised Libya for what he said was "excellent progress" in fulfilling weapons commitments thus far and delivered a letter from President Bush on ways to further improve ties.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said a lot has been achieved since the United States and Libya initiated secret contacts on the weapons program a year ago. But he also dampened expectations of an early restoration of full relations, saying that is something that cannot be done "in one big leap:"
Mr. Ereli said,"This is a process that is going move one step at a time. And where it ends up depends on, basically, reciprocal steps. And I'm not going to preview at this point the end result. I think what we can say is (that) so far the progress has been excellent. So far we have a lot to show for the engagement."
Libya remains subject to U-S economic sanctions because of its continued presence on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Officials say the United States is pressing Libya to end what they say are residual ties to groups involved in terrorism, and meddling in affairs of some African countries.
They also say there are continuing U.S. concerns about Libya's human rights record, which were raised with the Libyan leader by Mr. Burns.
But they welcomed Libya's release earlier this month of human rights advocate Fathi el-Jahmi who had been jailed since October, 2003, and a decision to invite an Amnesty International team to visit the country.
In a statement on the Burns visit, the State Department said the assistant secretary stressed the importance of Libya's fulfillment of UN resolutions regarding its acceptance of responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland in 1988.