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Khadafy sits down with US officials

TRIPOLI, Libya -- A Republican lawmaker led a delegation of Americans into uncharted territory yesterday: a meeting with Libya's leader, Moammar Khadafy, and a tour of a nuclear reactor.

The extraordinary meeting -- in a tent beside the ruins of Khadafy's house, bombed by US warplanes in 1986 -- is a hallmark of improving relations between the United States and Libya after decades of animosity.

"It was an extremely positive two hours," said the delegation's leader, Representative Curt Weldon, Republican of Pennsylvania. "We discussed the hope that we will achieve normal relations soon."

The lawmakers said there was little discussion of the remaining points of contention between the countries -- Libya's policy toward Israel, for example -- but they were impressed with Khadafy.

"He came across as a very sincere man," said Representative Solomon P. Ortiz, a Texas Democrat.

Another American lawmaker, Representative Tom Lantos of California, was in Libya on a separate visit. He arrived Saturday on the first visit by an elected US official in 38 years.

Lantos, the senior Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, met for 90 minutes with Khadafy before the other US delegation arrived, and he emerged saying that the Bush administration should show "good faith" toward the North African leader.

In a telephone interview yesterday from the Netherlands on his way home, Lantos said he would recommend that the committee chairman, Representative Henry J. Hyde, Republican of Illinois, urge the White House to lift a ban on travel to Libya as a first step to a new relationship.

"The conversation was extremely cordial," Lantos said. "He repeatedly emphasized this turning to peace and his hopes it will lead to a new relationship" with the United States.

In recent months, Khadafy has renounced his support for terrorist organizations and invited US, British, and UN specialists to dismantle his previously secret programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. The lawmakers said they were convinced that Khadafy was serious about his new place in the world and that he wanted change desperately after decades of US and UN sanctions imposed for his support of terrorists took a toll on his country's oil wealth and regional power.

Representative Darrell E. Issa, a California Republican, said Khadafy "expressed his regret that a quarter century has passed of isolation between our countries."

The meeting, Issa said, "is just the first step."

Before that meeting, the lawmakers toured Khadafy's house, damaged in attacks launched by then-President Reagan in retaliation for the bombing of a German disco that killed a US soldier and a Turkish woman. Thirty-seven people were killed in the US attacks.

The lawmakers shook their heads at a photograph said to be of Khadafy's adopted daughter, killed in the bombing. Issa said Khadafy contended that the United States didn't give him the proper warnings before the attacks.

Khadafy admitted last month that he tried to develop weapons of mass destruction -- including a nuclear bomb -- and UN, American, and British inspectors have been inspecting the facilities to determine how to dismantle them.

Donning white smocks and shoe coverings, the lawmakers reviewed the Tajura reactor just east of Tripoli, a 10-megawatt facility for scientific research built in 1980 with equipment imported from Russia.

Although the facility wasn't used for weapons development, scientists working on the nuclear weapons program presumably gained knowledge working at facilities like Tajura. In addition to Weldon, Ortiz and Issa, the delegation includes Rodney Alexander, a Louisiana Democrat, and Republicans Candice S. Miller of Michigan, Mark E. Souder of Indiana, and Elton Gallegly of California.

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