President Obama Shakes Hands with Qadaffi

By Lindsey Ellerson

Jul 9, 2009 4:15pm

At the dinner hosted by the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, President Obama this evening shook hands with Libyan dictator Moammar Qadaffi, here representing African nations. As the leaders filed into a room at around 9 pm local time, President Obama and Qadaffi briefly greeted each other. Conservatives have criticized President Obama for shaking hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during a summit earlier this year. Libya and the US have enjoyed an improvement in relations in recent years, as initiated by President Bush, though obviously the dictator's support of terrorism against the US in the past makes him a most distasteful character in the eyes of many Americans. Last November, then-President Bush called Qaddafi to tell him how pleased he was about a $1.5 billion payment by Libya for previous terrorist attacks, including the bombing a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland. Then-President Bush and Qaddafi, said then-White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe, "discussed that this agreement should help to bring a painful chapter in the history between our two countries closer to closure…While we will always mourn the loss of life as a result of past terrorist activities, the settlement agreement is an important step in repairing the relationship between Libya and the United States." Johndroe said that "Libya has taken important steps on the road to normalizing its relations with the international community, beginning with its renunciation in 2003 of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The United States will continue to work on the bilateral relationship with Libya, with the aim of establishing a dialogue that encompasses all subjects, including human rights reform and the fight against terrorism." Interestingly, when then-Sen. Obama was last in Russia before this trip, with Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., inspecting former nuclear weapons sites in the former USSR in 2005, Lugar had just come from Libya, where he'd been laying the groundwork for the restoration of diplomatic relations with Libya. Qadaffi remains quite eccentric, earlier today making an impromptu stop on his drive from Rome to L'Aquila. At the town of Arsoli, just on the border of the region of Lazion, the Libyan leader made his white limo stop and got out to walk along the A24 highway for about 15 minutes. ABC News' Dana Hughes reminds us that Qadaffi considers himself the "king of all kings" in Africa, and launched a forum last year with traditional rulers to make it "official." As head of the Africa Union he has been pushing hard for a "United States of Africa" with a single currency and army but without the democracy (which he says is un-African), and with him at the helm. — jpt Image courtesy: The Associated Press

You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus