MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is taking what her aids call a history making trip. Tomorrow, she plans to visit Libya. For decades, Libya was a pariah. But the country is now being rewarded for giving up weapons programs and renouncing terrorism. The U.S. has been gradually lifting sanctions on Libya and restoring ties.
Rice's trip caps that effort as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: When Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi plays host to Secretary of State Rice tomorrow, it will be the most tangible sign to date that at least among U.S. policymakers, Gaddafi has shed the image he had back in the 1980s. That's when President Ronald Reagan bombed Gaddafi's compound and accused him of sponsoring terrorist attacks.
Mr. RONALD REAGAN (Former U.S. President; Republican, California): This mad dog of the Middle East has a goal of a world revolution: Muslim fundamentalist revolution.
KELEMEN: Secretary Rice's point man on the Middle East, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, says the U.S. no longer uses language like that.
Mr. DAVID WELCH (Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, U.S. Department of State): We don't refer to Colonel Gaddafi in those terms today. This is a relationship that has had a troubled past, but now, it is on a much firmer foundation.
KELEMEN: In the days leading up to Rice's trip to Libya — the first visit by a secretary of state since 1953 — State Department officials have been talking about Libya as a foreign policy success story.
Ties started warming back in 2003 when Gaddafi agreed to give up a nuclear weapons program and the U.S. started lifting sanctions on the oil rich nation.
Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance and Implementation Paula DeSutter says Gaddafi's actions should serve as a model for others.
Ms. PAULA DeSUTTER (Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance and Implementation, U.S. Department of State): The secretary's visit is going to be a huge demonstration of the fact that by changing behavior, a country can change the nature of relations.
KELEMEN: Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, says the U.S. approach to Libya, where you negotiate to change a regime's behavior, was the opposite of the Iraq model.
Mr. JOE CIRINCIONE (President, Ploughshares Fund): The Iraq war has proved to be very difficult, costly and unnecessary. The Libya model has been cheap, 100 percent effective, and nobody died.
KELEMEN: He says this is the right message to be sending to Iran and to North Korea, though those cases are far more complicated than Libya. Cirincione says by sending Rice to Libya, the Bush administration wants to show that regimes can survive — even prosper — if they behave by the rules.
Mr. CIRINCIONE: We've seen, under the Bush administration, Muammar Gaddafi go from the poster child of a rogue state leader to a man that President Bush calls a model that others should follow. That is a remarkable transformation. If a Democrat did that, the Republicans would undoubtedly be attacking him for appeasement. Sometimes, you know, it takes a Bush to go to Libya.
KELEMEN: There was one thing that had to be worked out before the trip: Libya recently agreed with the U.S. to set up a fund to finish compensating families of the victims of two terrorist attacks, the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and the 1986 bombing of the La Belle discotheque in Berlin.
So far, the money is not in the fund. Rice's aides say they expect it will be there soon. Human Rights Watch and other activists are urging her to raise the cases of Libyan political prisoners as well to make sure that the U.S.-Libyan detente does not come at the expense of human rights.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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