Have Tent, Will Bargain Libyan Leader Strikes Deals with France

Moammar Gadhafi arrived in Paris Monday and promptly signed trade agreements worth €10 billion. His visit has drawn criticism from human rights groups and politicans who say that France is cooperating with a former dictator and terrorist.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi caused a stir Monday at the start of his state visit to France -- and not just because his adherence to Bedouin traditions led him to pitch a tent in the courtyard of the Elysee presidential palace.

Instead, human rights officials and politicians in France are outraged that the government signed trade deals worth almost €10 billion ($14.7 billion) with a leader notorious for his alleged human rights abuses and former nuclear ambitions.

"It would be indecent, in any case, that this visit be summed up with the signing of contracts," said Rama Yade, France's human rights minister. She also criticized the timing of Gadhafi's arrival, which coincided with International Human Rights Day, and said that the Libyan leader should understand that "our country is not a doormat."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy defended his policy as the type of reinforcement that could be used to tempt rogue states away from developing nuclear weapons. Sarkozy orchestrated this week's state visit -- Gadhafi's first visit to France in 30 years -- as a reward for the Libyan leader's cooperation in the June release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who had been imprisoned in Libya for eight years and sentenced to die. Sarkozy suggested that similar policies might one day be used to steer Iran away from its own nuclear ambitions.

"What would we say today to Iranian leaders if we don't extend our hand to the leader of Libya who chose to turn his back on nuclear arms and terrorism?" Sarkozy said, according to the Associated Press.

Sarkozy hosted a dinner for Gadhafi Monday night at the Elysee presidential palace and invited major French business leaders from companies such as Airbus, Dessault and Total.

At the close of the banquet, Sarkozy and Ghadafi signed a deal to help Libya build a nuclear power generator. The power plant would be used to desalinize water and make use of the 1,600 tons of uranium Libya has left over from the weapons program it abandoned in 2003. Last week France also reached an agreement with Algeria, Libya's neighbor to the west, to build a similar plant.

Also at the state dinner, two Libyan airlines signed a contract with Airbus for 21 new planes worth over €3 billion ($4.4 billion).

It was the second meeting this year between Gadhafi and Sarkozy. The French president visited Libya in July  after France led negotiations to release the five nurses and one doctor convicted of infecting 400 Libyan children with HIV in the late 1990s.

As Gadhafi's trip continued Tuesday with a visit to the National Assembly, so did opposition to his presence, and Socialist lawmakers vowed to boycott the meeting. But the French president stood by his policy as a model to help wean pariah states off the desire to develop nuclear weapons.

"We must encourage those who renounce terrorism, who renounce the possession of nuclear arms," Sarkozy said.

pmm/ap/reuters

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