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The Times: Diplomatic ties linked to purse strings


Robert Cole, The Times Deputy Business Editor, asks: Is it right that Shell should be profiting from involvement in Libya?


March 25, 2004  


"It appears that leopards can change their spots after all, if Tony Blair has judged Muammar Gaddafi right.


"In shaking hands with Colonel Gaddafi today, Britain's Prime Minister signalled that the Libyan dictator was no longer a pyriah of the Western world nor his nation a threat to global peace.


"Mr Blair said before the meeting: 'Let us offer to states that want to renounce terrorism and the development of weapons of mass destruction our hand in partnership to achieve it, as Libya has rightly and courageously decided to do.'


"The UK's business sector showed it was eager to lend its hand too, with Shell this morning announcing an exploration tie-up with National Oil Corporation of Libya. BAE Systems, the defence contractor, is believed to be another likely beneficiary of closer links between London and Tripoli.


"Proposals by UK businesses for exploiting Libya's 1,200 miles of undeveloped coast are already flooding in. One British company is believed to be negotiating consent for a 500 hectare tourism complex complete with marina and golf course.


"Do such deals, with the prospects of bumper profits, justify renewing relations with a country held responsible for the death of Yvonne Fletcher, the British police officer shot in 1984 during the Libyan embassy siege, and for the Lockerbie bombing four years later which killed 270 people?


"There is a price for the renewal of political and business relations with Libya, and it is being paid largely by the families of the victims of the atrocities. Kathleen Fletcher, an American whose son died at Lockerbie, is one. She said: 'I am not happy to hear that Tony Blair is going to make nice with Muammar Gaddafi'.


"Amnesty International has attacked Libya's human rights record while Oxfam said that using arms sales as a reward for political co-operation smacked of the 'bad old days of British arms policy'.


"Maintaining Libya's status as a pariah nation, however, when it appeared willing to reform itself could risk more damaging results, forcing the Tripoli government into alliances with less savoury states and organisations.


"When Libya had developed highly enriched uranium which was approaching suitability for use in nuclear missiles, and when it had amassed at least 500 tonnes of parts for use in its weapons programme, the West would have been irresponsible to ignore Tripoli's overtures.


"While it is easy to be cynical about the business deals being sealed in the wake of Mr Blair's visit, such ties bind Tripoli ever stronger to the West and internationally 'acceptable' standards of behaviour.


"They offer the prospect not just of higher profits for UK companies, but also of improved quality of life for Libyans, 25 per cent of whom are unemployed even though the country's oil reserves are believed to be among the largest in Africa.


"Libya's economy has suffered as oil production has fallen by about a half since the mid-1970s, after Colonel Gaddafi nationalised the oil fields.


"It is reasonable of Shell to celebrate the establishment this morning of 'a long-term strategic partnership'.


"It would be wise of the company, however, to remember those who are paying for its profits."



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