Libya to give rights to oil fields away if Americans do not return

Sep 02, 2001 02:00 AM

If US firms do not return to oil fields they were forced to abandon because of sanctions against Libya, they will lose their rights to the fields, Libya's foreign minister said. At the same time, Abdel-Rahman Shalqam expressed, in some of the most direct terms ever, Libya's desire to reconcile with the United States, which maintains a unilateral embargo imposed on this oil-rich North African country in 1986.
"Libya desires a resolution with America," Shalqam told after meeting with Italy's foreign minister, Renato Ruggiero. "America is a big country. It has capabilities. We are a developing nation, a small country."
Shalqam's remarks came a day after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi railed against the United States in a speech marking the 32nd anniversary of his rise to power. Washington, which accuses Libya of sponsoring terrorism, recently extended sanctions against foreign companies conducting business with Libya by five years.

Despite Gaddafi's rhetoric, experts say Libya is taking a more pragmatic approach in its foreign policy. Libya turned over two of its citizens suspected in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, prompting the United Nations to suspend its sanctions against the country in 1999.
Several European governments followed the United Nations' lead, which allowed European companies to make deals with the North African oil power as US companies sat on the sidelines. Italy and Libya recently agreed on a $ 5 bn gas project, and Libya is Italy's main oil supplier, Shalqam said.
At least one European company reportedly has sought permission from Libya to drill in fields where American companies had rights. Shalqam invited US oil firms that were forced to withdraw after the US embargo to return to Libya.
"We have agreements with the American companies, and those agreements need our cooperation," he said. "We'll give them time, but we can't waste our fields... waiting for the Americans." He said Libya would give the US companies until next year. "Either they will come and work or we will give their rights to other companies," Shalqam said.

Source: AP Online
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