Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi, once a terrorism-sponsoring pariah, is on the brink of rehabilitation. Can he hold his tongue long enough to pull it off?
Today, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi arrives in New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly. Although he hasn't touched down yet, the colonel is already fraying nerves.
In the spring, with the Obama administration in the White House, the old tensions between Washington and Tripoli had started to ease. At the July summit of the G-8 in Italy, President Barack Obama and Qaddafi had one of those handshakes often described as "historic."
But, last month, Libya affronted many by giving the Lockerbie bomber a hero's welcome. (A Scottish court had convicted Abdelbaset al-Megrahi of killing 270, including 189 Americans, by blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.
In August, a judge granted the bomber compassionate release as he is terminally ill.) More recently, the State Department has had to scramble to find appropriate accommodations for Libya's quixotic leader after New York City and New Jersey said they wouldn't allow him to pitch his tent. Most of all, workers in Foggy Bottom are wringing their hands because Qaddafi has a long history of making humiliating statements when he has an international stage.
Thus, as he arrives for a week in the Big Apple, one question looms large: Will Qaddafi restrain himself, helping foster the quiet U.S.-Libya diplomatic rapprochement, or will he let loose, shoot from the hip, and foment outrage?
European leaders have been the most recent victims of the Qaddafi treatment.
In the past two years alone, the Libyan leader has managed to embarrass French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and, most recently, Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz.
In the last case, Qaddafi upbraided Merz after Swiss authorities arrested his son, Hannibal Qaddafi, for assaulting two maids at a Geneva hotel. The Libyan colonel managed to shame Merz into traveling to Tripoli to issue a public apology -- after, allegedly, threatening to cut Libya's bank deposits and oil exports to Switzerland. With the Swiss public far from amused, Merz's humiliating actions might cost him his job.
Source: Foreign Policy