Cablegate: Libyan Reaction to Claims Settlement Agreement Positive,

DE RUEHTRO #0666/01 2381640
P 251640Z AUG 08



E.O. 12958: DECL: 8/25/2018
HIGH EXPECTATIONS FOR U.S. INFLUENCE ON AL-QADHAFI TRIPOLI 00000666 001.5 OF 002 CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, CDA, Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 1. (C) Summary: Reaction among ordinary Libyans and well-informed contacts to news that the U.S. and Libya finalized a comprehensive claims settlement agreement has been enthusiastic. Coverage in state-owned media has been positive but limited, in part to minimize questions about the parameters of the compensation package and potential criticism from old guard elements. Some informed contacts have characterized the agreement as a "grand opening" in U.S.-Libyan bilateral relations, as compared to the "soft opening" between the re-establishment of diplomatic ties in 2004 and the signing of the claims agreement in 2008. There are high expectations in some quarters that the U.S. will seek to capitalize on the new tenor of the relationship to press Muammar al-Qadhafi to open further political space - particularly with respect to respect for human rights, freedom of the press and an expanded role for civil society - in what remains a tightly-controlled society. End summary. OFFICIAL MEDIA REACTION POSITIVE, BUT NOT EXTENSIVE 2. (C) The reaction of state-owned media and the public to news of the comprehensive claims settlement agreement signed on August 14 during the visit to Tripoli by NEA A/S David Welch has been positive. State-owned Libyan television and newspapers carried coverage and articles August 14-16 highlighting comments by MFA Secretary for the Americas Dr. Ahmed Fituri to the effect that the agreement had " ... opened new horizons for Libyan-American relations, based on mutual respect, and serious and productive cooperation, which will result in progress and prosperity for both countries and their peoples". Fituri also stressed that the agreement represented the turning over of a new leaf in bilateral U.S.-Libya relations and was expect to facilitate improved people-to-people relations between the two countries. Longer term reaction in state-owned press has been limited; there have not been editorials or analytical pieces extolling the benefits of the agreement or predicting commercial windfalls as there were in the wake of French President Nicholas Sarkozy's visit in July 2007, or Muammar al-Qadhafi's visits to Madrid and Paris in December 2007. MFA Americas DeskOff Muhammad Ayab told us the GOL had chosen not to highlight the U.S.-Libya agreement in the press to mitigate potential questions about the parameters of the deal (the GOL has not released publicly the amount of the humanitarian fund that is to compensate U.S. and Libyan victims) and to avoid potential backlash from old guard elements who might criticize the regime for having "capitulated" to the U.S. REACTION AMONG LIBYANS POSITIVE ... 3. (C) The observed reaction among Libyans has been very positive. Shopkeepers, dry cleaners, neighbors and taxi drivers have all expressed effusive congratulations to Emboffs in the week since the agreement was signed. Locally-engaged staff have been equally enthusiastic, offering felicitations and expressing hope that an important corner in bilateral relations has indeed been turned. Reaction among well-connected and informed contacts - typically a more hard-bitten, reserved group - has also been positive. The expectation is that resolution of the key outstanding political irritant will facilitate more robust U.S. commercial involvement in Libya and help remove the specter of a potential relapse into the "bad old days" of sanctions, a fear fueled by the decision of the U.S. Congress to pass the Lautenberg Amendment in January 2008. 4. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx scion of a well-connected, wealthy Benghazi-based family prominent in key business sectors, likened the agreement to a "grand opening" of U.S.-Libyan bilateral relations after the 2004-2008 "soft opening" during the period between re-establishment of diplomatic ties and finalization of the claims agreement. xxxxxxxxxxxx described the agreement as "a remarkable achievement", noting that he had not believed it possible for the U.S. and Libya to resolve such a complicated issue so quickly. xxxxxxxxxxxx noted for us that while he was "delighted" at the news of the important agreement and "expected great things", he had lost 100 L.D. in a bet with colleague (al-Obeidi wagered that the deal would not be finalized and signed before the U.S. presidential elections in November). ... BUT EXPECTATIONS HIGH THAT U.S. WILL PRESSURE AL-QADHAFI ON POLITICAL SPACE, HUMAN RIGHTS 5. (C) While reaction to news of the agreement has been TRIPOLI 00000666 002.2 OF 002 positive, there are high expectations in some quarters that the U.S. will pressure al-Qadhafi and the GOL more publicly and directly to open further political space in what remains a closed, tightly-controlled society. Acting on Libyan state media reports that the Secretary planned to visit soon in the wake of the agreement, a journalist and human rights activist called P/E Chief to express hope that she would press for greater press and civil society freedoms during her expected visit. The contact, who is under indictment for authoring an editorial criticizing ill-coordinated government development programs, expressed frustration that public rhetoric about reform has not been consistent with the results to date. Echoing the soft opening/grand opening formulation, a contact who works for the Ministry of Justice-equivalent and the Ministry of Interior-equivalent told us he hopes the U.S. will now pressure the GOL more directly to pursue needed legal reforms. (Note: Libya's legal code, an amalgam of Italian, British and Islamic Shari'a law, has not been substantially revised since the 1950's. We understand that a draft of a new legal code is currently being reviewed by various government ministries. End note.) 6. (C) A contact in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, told us that Benghazi residents had expressed hope on hearing of the agreement that the U.S. would seek to capitalize on the new tenor of the relationship to press the GOL for improved respect for human rights. Of particular concern, for residents of the eastern province of Cyrenaica is the case of detained human rights activist Fathi el-Jahmi, who hails from a prominent tribe there. Easterners, a number of whom regard el-Jahmi as a symbol of courageous resistance against what they perceive as an illegitimate regime, have been "disappointed" that the U.S. did not push harder and more publicly for el-Jahmi's release. They also felt that the U.S. "disappointed" their expectations in 2004-2008 (i.e., before the agreement was signed) by not pressing al-Qadhafi harder to open further political space. "Frankly", our contact said, "we are now hoping that the U.S. does what we all expected it to do during the past four years - to make it clear to the al-Qadhafi clan that their 35 year period of honey is over". Easterners have also been frustrated that Cyrenaica has not benefited economically under al-Qadhafi's regime to the extent that Tripoli, Sirte and other areas viewed more favorably by the regime have. 7. (C) Comment: Libyan reaction to news of the U.S.-Libya claims settlement agreement is a mixture of relief and high expectation. Libyans are genuinely pleased that a key political irritant in the bilateral relationship has been resolved, seemingly reducing the likelihood that U.S.-Libya relations could lapse back into something akin to the sanctions period. There is also the belief that expanded political and economic engagement with the U.S. and the West, which is expected to accelerate with the lifting of the Lautenberg Amendment and potential asset seizure, will help solidify internal Libyan reforms undertaken in recent years. Many Libyans hope that expanded engagement with the U.S. will include U.S. advocacy for political reform and greater respect for human rights. A key challenge for al-Qadhafi will be to temper expectations that fully normalized relations with the U.S. will prompt an immediate shift in the nature of the regime and its reluctance to move quickly on political reform. End comment. STEVENS

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