August 14, 2009 / 3:39 PM / 10 years ago

McCain says Congress backs expanding Libya ties: report

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - U.S. Republican Senator John McCain praised Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi for his peacemaking role in Africa and said Congress would support expanding ties, Libyan state news agency Jana said on Friday.

U.S.-Libyan relations have dramatically improved since Tripoli’s decision in December 2003 to give up its weapons of mass destruction programs, with diplomatic ties resuming in June 2004 after a break of more than two decades.

“McCain and the delegation accompanying him confirmed the importance of expanding further the relations between Libya and the United States. The Congress would back the measures to be taken to achieve this aim,” Jana said. It gave no details.

Since Washington ended its major sanctions on Libya, U.S. energy companies including ExxonMobil and Chevron have been active in Libya.

Jana made no mention of any comment by McCain, defeated by Barack Obama in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, about the possible release of Libyan agent Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, jailed in Britain for his role in blowing up a U.S. airliner in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Unconfirmed media reports this week said Scottish ministers were planning to release him on compassionate grounds because he is dying of prostate cancer.

McCain, heading a four-member Congressional delegation, held talks with Gaddafi’s son Mouatassim, the powerful national security adviser, before meeting Gaddafi himself.

“Senator McCain and the delegation with him expressed their deep happiness to meet the leader and praised him for his wisdom and strategic vision to tackle issues of concern to the world and his efforts to sustain peace and stability in Africa,” Jana said.

Gaddafi is the chairman of the African Union and attended the July G8 summit of world leaders in Italy, where he met and shook hands with Obama.

The United States designated Libya a “state sponsor of terrorism” in 1979, and President Ronald Reagan ordered Libyan assets in the United States frozen in January 1986.

Relations sank further when the United States blamed Libya for the deadly bombing of a Berlin disco frequented by U.S. military personnel. U.S. aircraft bombed Tripoli, Benghazi and Gaddafi’s home in April 1986, killing his adopted infant daughter.

President George W. Bush formally ended the U.S. trade embargo in 2004, and Libya declared an end to confrontation with the United States in 2008.

But Gaddafi has complained the West has failed to pay back his country for its move to abandon its weapons programs.

Editing by Alison Williams

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