U.S. Envoy Cretz Set For New Role In Libya

After a long period without formal relations, the U.S. has an ambassador in Libya once more. Gene Cretz received his official credentials Sunday and discusses the job ahead of him.

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

Next, we introduce you to the American ambassador to Libya, someone you don't hear from very often - largely because there hasn't been an American ambassador to Libya in more than 35 years. The U.S. pulled its ambassador in 1972, a few years after Muammar Gaddafi came to power on a wave of anti-American sentiment.

In the last few years, though, Gaddafi has tried to make amends. He's renounced terrorism, he's abandoned his country's nuclear program, and he paid into a fund for the families of those killed in the 1988 PanAm bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. Gene Cretz is the new U.S. ambassador to Libya. He flew to Tripoli just after Christmas to get started, and he's on the line now. Congratulations, Ambassador Cretz.

Ambassador GENE CRETZ (U.S. Ambassador to Libya): Well, thank you very much.

ROBERTS: You've only been in town a couple of weeks. How were you received when you arrived?

Ambassador CRETZ: Well, it's been a very good experience so far. I only presented my credentials, actually, today. So, in effect, I was not the official U.S. representative here until that happened. But at approximately 11:15 this morning, Tripoli time, I did present my credentials. And so I am now a fully functioning ambassador. I would say that the welcome from Libyans, in general, has been very warm. There are several people here who - of the older generation who studied in the United States, in fact, and who harbor a strong affection for the United States. And in addition, just as there is a lot of excitement throughout not only the Arab world, but in the world in general about the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Obama, it's a good time to be an American diplomat overseas.

ROBERTS: Did you present your credentials to Muammar Gaddafi? Have you met with him yet?

Ambassador CRETZ: No, I haven't. No. Since the credentialing only happened several hours ago, I will now begin to make my rounds of the Libyan officials with whom I was basically, officially barred from meeting until that credentialing ceremony happened.

ROBERTS: And why establish an ambassador there now? What's the benefit to re-establishing diplomatic contact while Gaddafi is still in power?

Ambassador CRETZ: Well, we've been through a very difficult period with the Libyans. At some point, this government, under the leadership of Colonel Gaddafi, took some fairly significant steps - including, as you said, the renunciation of terrorism, giving up its weapons of mass destruction. In addition to that, we have a lot of interests, similar interests with Libya - for example, in combating terrorism. So it was only natural that we would take the final step of sending an ambassador.

ROBERTS: You were most recently at the embassy in Tel Aviv. As you watch what's happening in Gaza now, what is the reaction in Libya? Gaddafi was extremely anti-Israel at one time. What's going on now?

Ambassador CRETZ: Well, you know, just as we've seen demonstrations across the Arab world and the Islamic world, in Europe, and even in the United States, we have also seen demonstrations here. They're very strong, obviously, in their criticism of Israeli actions in Gaza. But so far, there's been no major threat to our facilities. There have been several demonstrations, as I said, but we remain on a high security alert here, as we do in several places around the globe. But there's a lot of anger here.

ROBERTS: Gene Cretz is the first United States ambassador to Libya in three decades. Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much.

Ambassador CRETZ: Thank you.

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