About the Author: David Welch serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.
Libya is in the midst of an historic process of reengaging with the broader world after 30 years of isolation. In the past five years, the transformation in our bilateral relationship with Libya has been considerable. No longer does Libya sponsor terrorism, and no longer does it threaten its neighbors with a clandestine WMD program. Libya serves as a model for other countries that have renounced isolation from the community of nations.
It hasn't always been easy. When I joined the State Department in 1977, we already had a contentious relationship with Libya that would worsen over the succeeding decade. During the 1980s, several terrorist attacks targeting American and Western interests touched many American lives, including mine and the close-knit State Department family. Among the many victims of the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, were two Diplomatic Security (DS) agents and a close friend of mine with whom I had served overseas. The 1989 bombing over Niger of a French airliner (UTA 772) claimed the life of the then-U.S. Ambassador to Chad's wife, whom I also knew. You can find the agents' and my friend's names today inscribed on the array of plaques in the State Department lobby that commemorates the men and women who have given their lives in the pursuit of American foreign policy. There is also a plaque commemorating family members who have equally sacrificed for their country.
On August 14, our two countries concluded a comprehensive claims settlement agreement to resolve outstanding claims of American and Libyan nationals against each country in their respective courts. I believe the process this agreement establishes is the best way to provide rapid recovery of fair compensation for American nationals who have terrorism-related claims against Libya. It will also bring a measure of justice for the many American families who have been waiting for this outcome for more than 20 years. The negotiations lasted three months, but in truth the State Department, and oftentimes I, had been working toward a solution for several years out of a sense of duty to the many Americans affected by these tragedies, including our fallen comrades and friends. We will pursue full implementation of this agreement, to start a new chapter in our relationship with Libya.
Today, Secretary Rice will make an historic visit to Libya. She will be the first Secretary of State to visit Libya since 1953 and will also be the most senior U.S. official -- and only U.S. Cabinet-level official -- to meet with Libyan Leader Muammar Qadhafi since he took power in 1969. This is an important visit that will underscore our commitment to assist Libya as it completes its WMD obligations. It will underscore our vital partnership against terrorism and our expanding cooperation in many other areas, including education and culture, science and technology, commerce, and human rights and good governance. We have pressed and will continue to press Libya -- in public and in private -- to improve its human rights record and immediately release political prisoners. Our relationship with Libya has changed for the better, and it is in our mutual national interests to continue to deepen our engagement with Libya and its people.