Libya wants to open a new chapter in relations with the United States by tapping into a major government fund to invest in U.S. companies and sending thousands of students to study in America, the son of Libya's leader said Friday.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi also outlined plans for Libya to move from the one-man rule of his father, Moammar Gadhafi, to a constitutional democracy as part of the country's modernization process.
The younger Gadhafi said he expects a constitution providing for democratic elections to be adopted by September 2009 — the 40th anniversary of the 1969 revolution that brought his father to power. He said he also expects Libya to modify its central government to a model similar to the U.S. federal government, with strong regional and local governments.
Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, who was a key figure in normalizing Libya's relations with the United States, left the political stage in August and is on a private visit to the United States. But his visit had definite political overtones, including meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, other administration officials and many federal legislators.
First U.S. ambassador to Libya in 36 years
It also coincided with Friday's confirmation of Gene Cretz as the first U.S. ambassador to Libya in 36 years. Gadhafi was in Washington Thursday when the Senate approved the appointment after it was verified families had received full compensation from Libya for the loss of relatives in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The bombing killed 180 Americans.
This week's events capped a halting, five-year rapprochement between the two countries that began in 2003 when the Libyan leader renounced terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The process gained traction in August when the U.S. and Libya agreed on the compensation deal.
The younger Gadhafi said his main message was: "We are good people, and nice. We'll make business. We'll invest. We have friends here in the states and we have a new chapter in the relations."
He said Libya's sovereign wealth fund, a government-owned investment fund of almost $100 billion, "wants to invest here in America" despite the current financial crisis. He didn't say how much Libya would invest.
Because the fund is new, he explained, "we avoided that tsunami, the big wave. We escaped that risk, and now we are in good shape to invest right now."
Libya hopes that some of the American businesses it invests in will transfer technology to the North African country "like other countries are doing," he said.
Promoting education links
Libya's other major focus is promoting education links with the U.S. and it expects to sign a cultural and educational agreement with the American government next month, he said.
"We hope to send ... thousands of our students to study here. And also, we are talking right now with many American schools and universities to come and operate in Libya," he said.
The younger Gadhafi said he decided to leave politics because his role addressing issues like sanctions and the U.S. embargo had ended.
"Libya for the first time has a normal relation with the rest of the world," he said.
He said he also worked hard to win government approval to invest $100 billion in Libya's modernization, which he called "a big struggle."
"Now the companies start working on that package, which is going to take the country forward," he said. "We are going to modernize everything in the country from A to Z."
The younger Gadhafi said his third battle is to have a constitution.
There is a draft constitution, he said, "and it's in the hands of the Libyans to fight for the constitution, to ratify the constitution, and then to have an efficient government with the people who are elected by the Libyans, and not appointed by us."
Libya after father's death
The younger Gadhafi sees a very different Libya with a central government similar to the U.S., after his 66-year-old father is gone.
"If you design everything around one person or one family or a couple of people, it's not going to work forever," he said.
He was asked about speculation that he will succeed his father as Libya's next leader.
"You get the answer — constitution, democracy, election, like any other country," the younger Gadhafi said.