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Blair arrives in Libya with praise for Gadafy
Will Woodward, chief political correspondent
Tuesday May 29, 2007
Tony Blair today kicked off his farewell tour of Africa by praising the Libyan dictator, Muammar Gadafy, as a man he found "very easy" to deal with and one who had always kept his word to him.
Speaking to reporters on the plane en route to Libya, the prime minister said they spoke several times a year, and had a "relationship of trust" on first-name terms.
That would have been "unthinkable" 10 years ago, he said, when relations between the two countries were at their lowest ebb following the murder of police constable Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984, and the Lockerbie bomb in December 1988.
"He's very easy to deal with. To be fair to him there's nothing that I've ever agreed with him should be done that hasn't happened. That's important," Mr Blair said.
In March 2004 Mr Blair became the first British prime minister for 61 years to visit Libya. He stayed just four hours then. But this visit will be the first time he has ever stayed in the country. It is being backed up by an announcement from oil giant BP that it will resume investment in Libya.
He was greeted with a red-carpet welcome in Tripoli before switching to another plane.Mr Blair later landed at Sirte, having made the 35 minute flight aboard a chartered Libyan jet. He was then heading off for his talks with Col Gadafy.
Mr Blair will also travel to Sierra Leone and South Africa - both places where he believes his policy has helped make a difference - during his final major tour as prime minister.
But he said he was confident that the engagement with Africa would continue once he is replaced by Gordon Brown next month.
"This is a policy that unquestionably has been through the government from the very beginning," he said.
He smiled ruefully at further questions about his future; this was something he would remain interested in, he said.
The tour was designed to keep Africa and climate change uppermost on the agenda for next week's G8 summit in Germany, but also to "underline the fact that the interventionist agenda for Africa is not only right, it's the only agenda that works".
Specifically on Darfur, the prime minister said the US president, George Bush, would be proposing a new UN resolution on the crisis shortly. But that too showed progress. A few years ago, he said, nothing would have happened about Darfur. "Now something has happened [but] it's not enough."
The Fletcher case - for which no one has ever been prosecuted - would be raised in the meeting between him and Col Gadafy, Mr Blair said. They would also discuss combating al-Qaida and wider African issues.
"It is a very good relationship," Mr Blair said. "Obviously it's come from a situation where Libya was treated as an outcast in the international community.
"The fact is we need Libya's help in combating terrorism and there is a fantastic commercial opportunity in Libya. But the relationship is important for the development of Africa as well.
"We've gone from a situation where 10 years ago it would have been unthinkable for us even to be here in a situation where the relationship is a good one."
Mr Blair said Libya's promise to abandon its programme of producing weapons of mass destruction - a deal brokered by Britain - had been difficult for Libya.
But Libya's example could show the way for other countries.
Asked if there was an example for Iran, which held historic face-to-face talks with the US in Baghdad yesterday, the prime minister said: "There's always the opportunity for people to have a different relationship.
"What Libya does show is that it is possible to go from a situation where Libya was an outcast in the international community to one in which the relationship is transformed and changed."
But that required Col Gadafy to show and honour commitments, Mr Blair said. "If that hadn't happened, our relationship wouldn't have changed."
Source: Guardian Unlimited