CAIRO, Aug. 21 (Xinhuanet) -- The United States has stepped up efforts to achieve normalized relations with Libya, an Arab analyst said Sunday after a prominent US senator wound up a visit to the oil-rich North African country.
"The visit is part of efforts exerted by US officials to normalize relations with Libya, which sticks out luringly to many US oil giants with its vast reserves," said Saber Rabie, a Cairo-based Arab analyst.
Senator Richard Lugar ended his two-day visit to Libya on Saturday, becoming the highest-ranking US official to visit Tripoli after it announced to stop seeking weapons of mass destruction in December 2003.
Ending his visit, Lugar, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he had met with several senior Libyan officials, including Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, on wide-ranging issues pertaining to bilateral ties.
"I noted the dramatic improvement in US-Libyan relations and stressed the US commitment to a continually improving relationship as cooperation between our countries grows," Lugar told reporters in Tripoli at the end of his visit.
The US senator voiced hope that the two-day mission would help bring about further rapprochement between the former foes.
The United States used to operate several military facilities in Libya and enjoy close ties with the country before Gaddafi rose to power in 1970.
For the much of the past quarter of century, the United States has considered the North African country as an adversary which is still on a US-drafted list of countries supporting terrorism.
In April 1986, the then US President Ronald Reagan ordered the bombing of targets in Tripoli and Benghazi, following US accusations of Libyan involvement in a bomb explosion at a German nightclub frequented by US soldiers.
However, relations between the United States and Libya have improved dramatically after Tripoli accepted responsibility for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am passenger plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, and agreed to give up the quest for weapons of mass destruction.
The United States opened a liaison office in Tripoli in June, marking the resumption of direct diplomatic relations between the two countries after a 24-year suspension.
Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam said in May that the two countries would open embassies in Washington and Tripoli toward the end of this year.
As a further sign of keen Libyan interest in restoring relations with Washington, Gaddafi invited US President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to visit his country, Lugar said.
Better bilateral ties were beneficial to both sides, Lugar said, adding Washington and Tripoli actually had many shared interests including in combating terrorism.
After years of international isolation, Tripoli is both economically hungry for foreign direct investments to exploit its vast oil and natural gas resources and politically eager to return to the international community.
Libya, a member of the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC), has said it aims to double its production to reach 3 million barrels per day by 2010, an objective that could only be achieved with around 30 billion US dollars investment.
Meanwhile, US oil giants, which were forced to quit Libya after bilateral ties turned sour more than two decades ago, have been pushing for normalization of relations which they hope will lead them back to some of the most lucrative oil fields in the region.
"There has been a sense of urgency among US oil companies, which have been forced to sit and watch their French, Italian, Spanish and even Canadian counterparts flock to Libya as relations between Tripoli and those countries rapidly improve," said Rabie.
Libya has rolled out red carpet several times in the past two years for western leaders, among them Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
"Among many other things, oil has always been a top priority for Western leaders when they landed on the soil of Libya," said Saber.
In 2004, Tripoli expects an income of some 15 billion dollars from its oil exports, boosted by the soaring prices on the international market during the year. Enditem