The United States supported the UN resolution providing for Libyan independence in 1951 and raised the status of its office in Tripoli from a consulate general to a legation. Libya opened a legation in Washington, DC in 1954. Both countries subsequently raised their missions to embassy level.
After Qadhafi's 1969 coup, U.S.-Libyan relations became increasingly strained because of Libya's foreign policies supporting international terrorism and subversion against moderate Arab and African governments. In 1972, the United States withdrew its ambassador. Export controls on military equipment and civil aircraft were imposed during the 1970s and U.S. embassy staff members were withdrawn from Tripoli after a mob attacked and set fire to the embassy in December 1979. The U.S. Government designated Libya a "state sponsor of terrorism" on December 29, 1979. In May 1981, the U.S. Government closed the Libyan "people's bureau" (embassy) in Washington, DC, and expelled the Libyan staff in response to a general pattern of conduct by the people's bureau contrary to internationally accepted standards of diplomatic behavior.
In August 1981, two Libyan jets fired on U.S. aircraft participating in a routine naval exercise over international waters of the Mediterranean claimed by Libya. The U.S. planes returned fire and shot down the attacking Libyan aircraft. In December 1981, the State Department invalidated U.S. passports for travel to Libya and, for purposes of safety, advised all U.S. citizens in Libya to leave. In March 1982, the U.S. Government prohibited imports of Libyan crude oil into the United States and expanded the controls on U.S.-origin goods intended for export to Libya. Licenses were required for all transactions, except food and medicine. In March 1984, U.S. export controls were expanded to prohibit future exports to the Ras Lanuf petrochemical complex. In April 1985, all Export-Import Bank financing was prohibited.
Due to Libya's continuing support for terrorism, the United States adopted additional economic sanctions against Libya in January 1986, including a total ban on direct import and export trade, commercial contracts, and travel-related activities. In addition, Libyan Government assets in the United States were frozen. When evidence of Libyan complicity was discovered in the Berlin discotheque terrorist bombing that killed two American servicemen, the United States responded by launching an aerial bombing attack against targets near Tripoli and Benghazi in April 1986. Subsequently, the United States maintained its trade and travel embargoes and brought diplomatic and economic pressure to bear against Libya. This pressure helped to bring about the Lockerbie settlement and Libya's renunciation of WMD and MTCR-class missiles.
In 1991, two Libyan intelligence agents were indicted by federal prosecutors in the U.S. and Scotland for their involvement in the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103. In January 1992, the UN Security Council approved Resolution 731 demanding that Libya surrender the suspects, cooperate with the Pan Am 103 and UTA 772 investigations, pay compensation to the victims' families, and cease all support for terrorism. Libya's refusal to comply led to the approval of UNSC Resolution 748 on March 31, 1992, imposing sanctions designed to bring about Libyan compliance. Continued Libyan defiance led to passage of UNSC Resolution 883, a limited assets freeze and an embargo on selected oil equipment, in November 1993. UN sanctions were lifted on September 12, 2003, after Libya fulfilled all remaining UNSCR requirements, including renunciation of terrorism, acceptance of responsibility for the actions of its officials, and payment of appropriate compensation to the victims' families.
On December 19, 2003, Libya announced its intention to rid itself of WMD and MTCR-class missile programs. Since that time, it has cooperated with the U.S., the U.K., the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons toward these objectives. Libya has also signed the IAEA Additional Protocol and has become a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
In recognition of these actions, the U.S. began the process of normalizing relations with Libya. The U.S. terminated the applicability of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act to Libya and President Bush signed an Executive Order on September 20, 2004 terminating the national emergency with respect to Libya and ending IEEPA-based economic sanctions. This action had the effect of unblocking assets blocked under the Executive Order sanctions. Restrictions on cargo aviation and third-party code-sharing have been lifted, as have restrictions on passenger aviation. Certain export controls remain in place.
U.S. diplomatic personnel reopened the U.S. Interest Section in Tripoli on February 8, 2004. The mission was upgraded to a U.S. Liaison Office on June 28, 2004, and to a full embassy on May 31, 2006. The establishment in 2005 of an American School in Tripoli demonstrates the increased presence of Americans in Libya, and the continuing normalization of bilateral relations. Libya re-established its diplomatic presence in Washington with the opening of an Interest Section on July 8, 2004, which was subsequently upgraded to a Liaison Office in December 2004 and to a full embassy on May 31, 2006.
On May 15, 2006, the State Department announced its intention to rescind Libya's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism in recognition of the fact that Libya had met the statutory requirements for such a move: it had not provided any support for acts of international terrorism in the preceding 6-month period, and had provided assurances that it would not do so in the future. On June 30, 2006, the U.S. rescinded Libya's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.
In 2007, there were a series of senior-level meetings between U.S. and Libyan officials that focused on a broad array of issues, including regional security and counterterrorism cooperation. Secretary Rice, in her meeting with then-Foreign Minister Shalgam on the margins of the UN General Assembly, discussed the resolution of outstanding issues and charting a path for future cooperation. On July 11, President Bush nominated career diplomat Gene A. Cretz as U.S. Ambassador to Libya.
On January 3, 2008, then-Foreign Minister Shalgam made an official visit to Washington, the first official visit by a Libyan Foreign Minister since 1972. During that visit the United States and Libya signed the Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement, their first bilateral agreement since the downgrading of diplomatic relations.
In May 2008, the U.S. and Libya began negotiations on a comprehensive claims settlement agreement to resolve outstanding claims of American and Libyan nationals against each country in their respective courts. On August 4, 2008 President Bush signed into law the Libyan Claims Resolution Act, which Congress had passed on July 31. The act provided for the restoration of Libya's sovereign, diplomatic, and official immunities before U.S. courts if the Secretary of State certified that the United States Government had received sufficient funds to resolve outstanding terrorism-related death and physical injury claims against Libya. Subsequently, both sides signed a comprehensive claims settlement agreement on August 14. On October 31, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice certified to Congress that the United States had received $1.5 billion pursuant to the U.S.-Libya Claims Settlement Agreement. These funds were sufficient to provide the required compensation to victims of terrorism under the Libyan Claims Resolution Act. Concurrently, President Bush issued an executive order to implement the claims settlement agreement.
Resolution of outstanding claims permitted full normalization of ties and the exchange of ambassadors in January 2009 for the first time since 1973. U.S. Ambassador Gene A. Cretz was sworn in on December 17, 2008 and submitted his credentials to the General People's Committee on January 11, 2009. Libyan Ambassador Ali Aujali submitted his credentials to President Bush on January 8, 2009.
The normalization of relations provided the United States and Libya with increasing opportunities to push for progress in areas of mutual concern, such as nonproliferation, counterterrorism, trade and investment, human rights, and economic development. On January 16, 2009, the U.S. and Libya signed a Defense Contacts and Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding. On April 21, 2009, former National Security Advisor Mutassim al-Qadhafi visited Washington, DC and met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as other senior U.S. Government officials. In September 2009, Qadhafi visited the U.S. for the first time to participate in the UN General Assembly in New York. In May 2010, the U.S. and Libya signed a Trade Investment Framework Agreement.
Relations with Libya deteriorated sharply following the Qadhafi regime’s brutal suppression of the uprising in 2011. The U.S. suspended Embassy operations in Tripoli on February 25, 2011 and ordered the Libyan Government to suspend its Embassy operations in Washington on March 16. A mob overran and burned the U.S. Embassy on May 1. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Libya on February 25 and, in compliance with UNSCR 1970, froze more than $30 billion in Libyan Government assets, most of which have now been released after the UN de-listed most Libyan financial institutions. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli resumed operations September 22, 2011. The U.S. appointed a special envoy to the Libyan Opposition in Benghazi in March 2011 and maintained a diplomatic presence there since April 5, 2011. The U.S. Government officially recognized the TNC as the legitimate government of Libya on July 15, 2011.
On September 11th, 2012, US Ambassador John Christopher (Chris) Stevens and three other State Department officials were killed when an angry mob stormed the U.S. Consulate in Libya. According to reports, armed men attacked the consulate building in Benghazi late on September 11, setting it ablaze and burning it down. Witnesses said the diplomatic building was ransacked and looted before being set on fire. They say it had also been badly damaged by homemade bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.
A statement by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States condemned the attack "in the strongest terms" and was working with Libyan security forces to secure the compound. Obama called the attack in Benghazi "outrageous and shocking," and vowed its perpetrators will face justice. "I've also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world," Obama said. "And make no mistake -- we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people."
The attack in eastern Libya on September 11 came after an earlier protest by radical Islamists outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the capital of neighboring Egypt. The Cairo protesters were also angry about the film, which is being promoted by an anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States. Excerpts of the film have been posted to YouTube and have been dubbed in Egyptian Arabic.
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