Libya's recent offer to pay $2.7 billion in compensation to the victims of the Lockerbie bombing ends one of the darkest chapters in the annals of international terrorism. It doesn't just conclude the Lockerbie saga; it confirms a major shift in Libya's relations with the rest of the world over the past decade.

In the 1990s, in an attempt to escape international isolation and avert a possible confrontation with the United States, Colonel's Mua'mmar Qaddafi began to abandon his policy of supporting terrorist organizations, insurgents and rebels that shared his disdain for the prevailing international order. He dropped plotting the demise of his enemies in favor of asserting his influence through a combination of mediation diplomacy and development assistance. Most notably, he shifted his attention to Africa and tried to find a constructive role for Libya in the continent's political transition. After decades of subverting the African state system, Qaddafi now appears to be making a positive contribution to the region's political cohesion and economic rehabilitation.

That conversion, coupled with the end of the Lockerbie affair, warrants a change in U.S. policy. Although the United States' dealings with Libya have evolved over the past two decades, successive administrations have agreed on the basic goal of isolating and containing the Libyan regime. But although a policy of coercion can make sense when handling recalcitrant regimes, by itself it is an inappropriate response to a rogue state that is beginning to comply with international standards. As Libya's foreign policy develops, the United States should inject a measure of flexibility in its approach to Tripoli, by removing Libya from the terrorism list, lifting restrictions on travel there, and gradually lessening trade barriers between the two states. An American policy that wields sticks and offers no carrots is unlikely to help accelerate Libya's self-rehabilitation.

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  • Ray Takeyh is Professor and Director of Studies at the Near East and South Asia Center of the National Defense University.
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