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US lifts Libya travel ban, encourages deeper ties

WASHINGTON -- The United States lifted a longstanding ban on travel to Libya yesterday and invited American companies to begin planning their return, after Moammar Khadafy's government affirmed that it was responsible for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.

The administration also encouraged Libya to establish an official presence in Washington by opening an "interests section," a diplomatic office a classification beneath an embassy. Washington will expand its diplomatic presence in Tripoli.

The White House announcement rescinded travel restrictions that have been in place for 23 years against Libya, which the United States had long branded a sponsor of state terrorism.

Allowing travel to Libya would give US firms an opportunity to do lucrative business legally in Libya's rich oil fields. It also would help Khadafy emerge from semi-isolation.

US firms that had holdings in Libya before sanctions were authorized to negotiate the terms of renewing operations, the White House said. But the companies will be required to obtain US approval of any agreement, if economic sanctions remain.

The Treasury Department said the prohibition on flights to Libya by US carriers remained for now.

The United States has been moving toward improved relations with Tripoli since Khadafy renounced the development of weapons of mass destruction and allowed weapons inspectors to verify that assertion. "While more remains to be done, Libya's actions have been serious, credible, and consistent with Colonel Khadafy's public declaration that Libya seeks to play a role in `building a new world free from [weapons of mass destruction] and from all forms of terrorism,' " a White House statement said.

The travel ban was lifted after the Jamahiriya news agency disavowed assertions by the Libyan prime minister that Libya had not acknowledged it blew the jetliner out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 270 people.

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