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North Africa
Politics | Economy - Development

Top US official tours Maghreb

afrol News, 5 September - A top United States official Condoleeza Rice is embarking on a tour in the Maghreb region.

The tour will however exclude Mauritania whose relations with US were strained by 6 August coup of democratic regime of president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi.

Ms Rice will visit Libya, Tunisia and Algeria before finishing the tour with a four-day diplomatic visit to Morocco.

She will hold talks with top officials of the four countries on several bilateral and regional issues.

US official will amongst others discuss with Algeria and Morocco on issues concerning Western Sahara, state department has disclosed.

Some analysts believe the tour was mainly meant to further strengthen Washington's ties with Libya and US influence in Maghreb region.

According to state department spokesman Sean McCormack, Rice's landmark trip to Libya would usher in a new era of relations between the two nations.

"It's a historic stop," McCormack said, admitting that the visit will be the first by a US secretary of state in more than half a century.

Relations between Tripoli and Washington began to improve in 2003 after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi abandoned efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, stop exporting terrorism and compensate families of victims of Lockerbie bombing.

The visit comes less than two weeks [14 August] after Libya and US finally reached a comprehensive deal that guarantee compensation to US victims of 1988 Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Libyans killed in 1986 when US warplanes bombed Tripoli and Benghazi would also be compensated.

The settlement of all outstanding lawsuits against Tripoli by US victims has led to restoration of full diplomatic ties between the two countries, with president George Bush describing Libya as a "model of diplomatic success."

"The secretary's visit is going to be a huge demonstration of the fact that by changing behavior, a country can change the nature of a relationship," US assistant secretary of state Paula De Sutter told a news conference, adding that "countries that change terrorism behavior, cooperate with us, have a way forward."

American companies are beginning to compete with Europeans and Asians to tap into Libya's lucrative markets, especially the energy sector.

The North African nation boasts of 36 billion barrels and natural gas reserves of 1.3 trillion cubic meters, in addition to vast unexplored new deposits.

In 2006, Africa replaced the Middle East as the largest oil exporter to US, exporting about 2.23 million barrels of oil to the country per day, according to official US statistics. This was the first time in 21 years.

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