Why Libya Wants In

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Herman Cohen, President Bush's point man on Africa, has also conducted a series of little-noticed recent visits to Tripoli. Cohen's travel was partly underwritten by an Arab businessman, Kamel Ghribi, who has retained former Bush State Department Middle East policy chief Robert Pelletreau as his Washington lawyer. On one of his sojourns, Cohen and a fellow Washington consultant treated the Maximum Leader with extraordinary deference. As Gaddafi denounced Israel, they listened. When he expressed eagerness to do business with U.S. companies, they offered encouragement.

Cohen also conferred with Gaddafi's brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi, who last year was convicted in absentia in a French court for the 1989 midair destruction of a plane in which 171 people, including the wife of an American diplomat, were killed. The Americans never mentioned that incident. "What was the point of bringing this up?" asks the consultant who traveled with Cohen. "We wanted to establish a dialogue."

Washington is a city in which commercial opportunities often foreshadow shifts in government policy. This doesn't mean restrictions on doing business with Libya will end immediately, and certainly not before the trial concludes. And the verdict, whether guilty or innocent, will not erase the scars that terrorism inflicted over Lockerbie. But U.S. corporations were late getting back into Vietnam, and they never had a chance in Cuba. To them, Libya is looking less like a terrorist nation and more like another potential customer in the great global economy.

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