US ambassador back in Tripoli
Left country after strain caused by leaked comments
TRIPOLI, Libya - The US ambassador to Libya returned to Tripoli yesterday to lead a newly reopened American Embassy in a post-Moammar Khadafy era.
Ambassador Gene Cretz arrived in Tripoli a day before plans to raise the US flag over the embassy building in the Libyan capital. It was about eight months after he left for consultations in Washington - after WikiLeaks posted his opinions of Khadafy’s personal life and habits in a classified 2009 diplomatic cable. At the time, the Obama administration was considering replacing him due in part to strains in ties caused by the blunt assessment.
Cretz returns to a country much changed since revolutionary forces seized control of Tripoli and forced the authoritarian leader into hiding after an uprising that began in mid-February.
Cretz was nominated to be the first US ambassador to Libya in 36 years by President George W. Bush in July 2007, after a remarkable turnaround in US relations with the North African nation.
The seismic shift in ties followed Khadafy’s 2003 renunciation of weapons of mass destruction and payment of compensation to the families of victims of 1980s terror attacks, including the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, blamed on Libyan agents.
Cretz had kept a relatively low profile in Libya until November, when WikiLeaks posted his assessments of Khadafy’s personal life and habits in a classified 2009 diplomatic cable.
The secret document said Khadafy “appears to have an intense dislike or fear of staying on upper floors, reportedly prefers not to fly over water, and seems to enjoy horse racing and flamenco dancing.’’ It also discussed Khadafy’s longtime reliance on a Ukrainian nurse named Galyna who the cable said had been described as a “voluptuous blonde.’’
President Obama announced Tuesday that the ambassador would return, telling Libyans: “This is your chance. And today the world is saying, with one unmistakable voice, we will stand with you.’’
The United States, along with its NATO allies, launched the military air campaign that helped rout Khadafy’s forces after the UN Security Council passed a resolution in March authorizing a no-fly zone and approving all necessary steps needed to protect civilians. NATO later took charge of the mission.
Yesterday, NATO’s decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, granted approval to extend the mission for another 90 days, an alliance official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because a formal statement had not yet been prepared. Without an extension, permission for the operation was set to expire Tuesday.
While many in the nation of 6 million people are enjoying newfound freedoms, well-armed Khadafy loyalists are still fighting on three fronts, and Libya’s new rulers are struggling to form a government.
The National Transitional Council, which led the rebellion and is the closest thing Libya has to a government, failed Sunday to seat a Cabinet, dashing hopes a new government would be in place before the interim leadership left to represent Libya at the UN General Assembly this week.
In New York, the transitional council’s prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, said Tuesday he expected a new government to be formed “within a week, 10 days maximum from now.’’ He said most of the work has been done, but it was important to ensure national consensus.
Armed fighters still loyal to the fugitive leader have repelled anti-Khadafy forces in Surt, the desert town of Bani Walid, and the southern area of Sabha.
Government forces have made inroads against Khadafy loyalists in Sabha, the last major city on a key road leading south to the border with Niger.
Abdel-Salam Sikayer, a spokesman for a local council in Sabha, said anti-Khadafy forces largely have control over two neighborhoods and are fighting to overtake pockets of resistance. He said 28 people, including three children, had been killed in fighting Monday and Tuesday.
Another commander said government forces have taken full control of Houn, a Khadafy military command post in the northern desert that commands the supply route to Surt.