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Libya’s New Leaders Making Quick Progress, Clinton Says

By Stephen Kaufman | Staff Writer | 08 March 2012
Abdurrahim ElKeib and Hillary Rodham Clinton shaking hands (AP Images)

Secretary Clinton meets Prime Minister ElKeib. A senior U.S. official says in Libya "the sense of a people breathing freedom for the first time is palpable."

Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised the work of Libya’s interim government and its positive encouragement of better governance, the private sector and Libyan civil society in the four months it has been in power.

Speaking with Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim ElKeib at the State Department March 8, Clinton said Muammar Qadhafi’s 42-year reign in which he ruled through “intimidation and division” had hollowed out Libya’s institutions, but ElKeib and his government have shown “essential and effective leadership” and had begun the difficult task of putting Libya back together.

”We’ve seen progress in each of the three key areas of democratic society: building an accountable, effective government; promoting a strong private sector; and developing a vibrant civil society. And we will stand with the people of Libya as it continues this important work,” Clinton said.

Libya’s constitutional assembly elections, scheduled for June, and the establishment of a supreme elections commission offer “a critical first step that will pave the way for a new constitution grounded in democratic principles,” she said.

The Obama administration has offered to help the Libyan government in its investigation of alleged human rights violations, and Clinton said the United States is encouraged by its commitment to promote human rights and the rule of law.

It is also supporting Libya’s “booming new civil society,” through the Middle East Partnership Initiative and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Transition Initiatives, she said.

In addition, the secretary said, the United States and the United Nations “have removed almost all restrictions on doing business, and we are encouraging American companies to look for opportunities inside Libya.”

ElKeib thanked the United States and other countries that supported Libya’s opposition during Qadhafi's reign and said his country is “very proud of our young men and women who brought freedom to our country after 42 years of a brutal regime that nobody felt would disappear in eight months.”

Showing courage and resilience, “our citizen army of teachers and mechanics, lawyers, students, professors, our sons and daughters suffered great losses along with the civilian population, but … in the end, we succeeded in making the dream of a free Libya a reality, and we’ll keep it that way,” he said.

Libya, ElKeib said, needed a “facelift,” and “the revolution has given it to her.”

Now the Libyan people “are putting the same energy and determination that fueled the revolution into establishing a new Libya that has a positive contribution, maybe in a small way, at least, to the environment around it and to the world around it,” he said.

Clinton’s meeting with ElKeib came one day after the Libyan prime minister met with President Obama at the White House. According to a March 7 White House summary of their meeting, Obama encouraged ElKeib “to continue plans to hold national elections in June and stressed the importance of transparency and engagement with Libya’s newly energized civil society as the government develops accountable institutions.”

The White House reported that the two leaders also discussed a range of security issues, including increased cooperation on border management, weapons security, and regional counterterrorism concerns.

A senior Obama administration official who asked not to be identified told reporters on a conference call March 8 that life in Libya is not only returning to normal after many months of conflict, but that the country has already improved in many ways from the normalcy that existed under Qadhafi.

“Libyans are exercising their newfound freedoms in ways previously unimaginable. The sense of a people breathing freedom for the first time is palpable. They are holding peaceful protests. They are forming political parties,” and “neighborhood cafes are bristling with passionate discussions about every topic under the sun,” the official said.

Libya’s economy has also improved, with some businesses reporting booming sales, and Libya has shocked U.S. analysts because its oil production levels are rapidly approaching their pre-revolution levels. Its oil ministry has announced that it expects the production rate to reach the pre-conflict level of 1.7 million barrels per day by the coming summer, the official said.

The Libyan government continues to struggle with some difficult issues, but “given where they have come [from], I think they have achieved quite a lot in the last four months, and the United States intends to be a firm partner with them, just as we supported them during the revolution,” the official said.