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U.S.-Libya Relations Warming Up

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U.S.-Libya Relations Warming Up

U.S.-Libya Relations Warming Up

U.S.-Libya Relations Warming Up

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The United States is making friends with an old enemy. Omar Turbi, a Libyan businessman and human-rights activist, makes a bid for your attention.


So, Mike, I would assert that every generation has its international pariahs -these international leaders who become vilified by popular culture.



MARTIN: I mean, when you and I were growing up - not to date ourselves. We're not that old. But, you know, in recent years.

PESCA: Stalin.

MARTIN: Yeah, Stalin.

PESCA: Kaiser Wilhelm.

MARTIN: You know, there was a guy - and still is a guy. He's still alive - Moammar Gadhafi.

PESCA: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

MARTIN: And I remember seeing pictures of him in his kind of outrageous clothes, and people would make jokes about him on late night. And this was the guy.

PESCA: He was the mad man out to destroy us, which always - someone always seems to place that role. And he was it for a bulk of the '80s.

MARTIN: And not so anymore. He's coming from the cold. All this - relations between Libya and the U.S. have warmed up in large part because of the deal made after the Lockerbie bombing. If people will remember in - back - a long time ago.

PESCA: 1988.

MARTIN: 1988.

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: Libya was called a terrorist state, and it was responsible for the hijacking of Pan Am Flight 103 that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in '88. And after that, things changed. Four years ago, Libya accepted some responsibility for bombing the plane, and agreed to compensate the families of the victims. And then, Libya's leader, Ghadafi, denounced terrorism and gave up development of weapons of mass destruction. And all these means that relations between the U.S. and Libya are now better than they've been in decades.

Omar Turbi came to the United States from Libya in 1973 on an academic scholarship. He's a businessman and an advocate for human rights in Libya. He's twice testified before Congress on U.S.-Libyan relations. And he's on the line now to explain to us about the future of U.S.-Libyan relations and why it should matter.

Mr. Turbi, are you there?

Mr. OMAR TURBI (National Adviser, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee): I am here. Mike and Rachel, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to speak on U.S.-Libya relations.

MARTIN: We really appreciate it. I want to first take a look at where we are right now. Two weeks ago, Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, met with Libya's foreign minister. It was the highest level meeting between Libya and the U.S. in 35 years. And she urged Libya to resolve these outstanding claims by families who lost loved ones in Lockerbie and another terrorist attack linked to Libya - the bombing of a Berlin night club in '86. Where does all of this stand now? What came out of that meeting?

Mr. TURBI: Well, relations between the United States and Libya have never been better. There is a U.S. embassy in Tripoli, although it's housed in a hotel, and it's in transition to a better location. Libya does have an embassy in Washington, D.C., but there has not been an exchange of ambassadors yet. There's a little bit of wrangling in Congress regarding that. They haven't approved the money to build an embassy or approve a nominated ambassador. The verdict that came down, I believe, a couple of days ago in Washington, D.C., which is probably a very large verdict, is causing a little bit of shockwaves in Tripoli. I don't know if you folks have heard of it, but it has to do with an airliner that was flying from Chad in September 1989. And it exploded midair, and about seven Americans aboard that plane were killed, including the U.S. ambassador's wife to…

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TURBI: …Chad. So $6 billion is a substantial - a lot of money. The Libyans have been actually not quite ready to pay the balance of the Lockerbie amount. Not because they have - they don't legally have to pay it, and the balance is about $536 million. So I don't know what the future will hold in the next few weeks as far as U.S.-Libya relations regarding this case. Wednesday night, Congress actually reiterated its position as for support for compensation of victims of terrorism from states overseas. So even though we are very optimistic of the relationship - I think it may - there may be some wrangling. There maybe some stuff going on.

MARTIN: It's still complicated.

Mr. TURBI: Yeah. A little complicated.

MARTIN: Briefly, we don't a whole lot of time. The human rights situation in Libya, this is something that U.S. officials still say is not satisfactory. What needs to change?

Mr. TURBI: Well, Libya is not any different than most of the nations in the region. It does hold a number of political prisoners, but not as many as a number of a nation like east of it, like Saudi Arabia or places like that. Definitely, there are a couple of people that have become more known, and the U.S. government is asking for their release. The human rights record is better, but it's not to our standards.

MARTIN: To our standards, meaning the U.S. standards?

Mr. TURBI: The U.S. standards, Western standards. But it's improving. The key that we need to look at - the most important thing is Libya is a very stable nation. If a tourist wants to go to Libya, if someone wants to travel to Libya, it's a very safe place. It's recognized worldwide as a dictatorship. And…

MARTIN: And it's still a very complicated ally for the United States, or emerging friend of the United States.

Omar Turbi is a scholar of U.S.-Libyan Relations. Sir, thanks very much.

We're going to continue our conversation and hopefully post something on our blog about this. It - we really appreciate you coming on, though, and helping explain this to us.

You have been listening THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Mike Pesca's sitting over there…

PESCA: Hello. Alison Stewart will be…

MARTIN: …(unintelligible) some more.

PESCA: Alison Stewart will be back tomorrow. She will be live from Utah at the Sundance Film Festival.

We're always online at


On behalf of Rachel Martin, I'm Mike Pesca from NPR News.

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