How Libya tried to win friends, gain influence in the US

Libya's ties with Billy Carter show signs of being part of a wider American friendship- building campaign whose scope and ambition have been flawed by poor planning, faulty execution, and naive misconceptions about the United States.

The trail left by Libyan emissaries across the country in recent years encompasses trade missions to Georgia and elsewhere, wheat deals in Idaho, expense-paid trips to Libya, and a smattering of campaign contributions to congressmen.

But trade agreements often have fallen short of expectations, initial approaches have failed to be followed up, and campaign money has been oddly targeted.

Through it all has run a kind of hopelessly innocent notion of being able to counteract the strain in official relations between the two countries by cultivating grass-roots friendships with the American people.

This campaign appears to have paid the North African nation few tangible benefits.

New trade pacts have been scarce. No wave of support for Libya has welled up from the American heartland or from Capitol Hill. Libya's seven-year-old purchase of eight C- 130 military transport airplanes remains blocked by the US government, and the American Embassy in Tripoli remains without an ambassador.

And whatever goodwill the Libyans may have managed to generate here probably has been lost by engaging the President's controversial younger brother as an agent.

The unevenness of the Libyan campaign is illustrated by its efforts to woo trade and friendship in Idaho.

In 1977 the Libyans flew the president of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, the chairman of the state wheat commission, and a grain elevator operator to their country for an escorted visit.

Two of the state's lawmakers in Washington, Sen. James McClure (R) and Rep. Steven Symms (R), now seeking the Senate seat held by Democrat Frank Church, took US-government-paid trips to Libya in 1977 and 1978. Congressman Symms described his visit as an attempt "to open up trade doors between Idaho and Libya."

Senator McClure also received a $1,000 contribution for his 1978 re-election campaign from another registered agent for Libya, Washington lawyer Richard C. Shadyac.

After a reciprocal visit from a team of Libyan agricultural representatives and businessmen in late 1977, the Tripoli government agreed to buy 100,000 metric tons of Idaho wheat as the first installment of what was touted as a long-term arrangement. There was talk of opening a permanent Libyan trade office in Idaho.

But only 40,000 tons of wheat wound up being bought (at a price of slightly less than $5 million), and some of that came from elsewhere because Idaho grows little of the milling wheat desired by the Libyans. No more Idaho wheat has moved to Libya. And the trade office never materialized.

An even more highly publicized Libyan courtship of the business community in Atlanta last year seems to have proved little more profitable.

The negative publicity accompanying the kickoff of a cross-country tour by the Libyan trade delegation, prominently hosted by Billy Carter, made Georgia businessmen wary. The Libyans are believed to have left town with few, if any, signed contracts in their pockets.

Discussion of forming a corporation to handle US-Libyan trade, with a role for the President's brother, faded.

Attempts by Libya to gain influence in Washington have betrayed similar ineptness, even before the current furor over Billy Carter.

Campaign contributions by anyone working for the Tripoli government appear to have been modest and legal, but invested far from the centers of power.

Unlike the South Koreans who, in the scandal that came to be known as "Koreagate," channeled campaign money to many of the senior Democrats in Congress, Libyan agent Shadyac has made personal contributions to relatively junior Republicans, such as Senator McClure, Sen. John Warner of Virginia ($250) , and Rep. James Abdnor of South Dakota, now running for the Senate seat of Democrat George McGovern ($100).

And Libya's efforts to win friends in the American capital have hardly been enhanced by radical leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's steady excoriation of the United States. Only this week he called the US "the great devil of our planet."

Much of the unorthodox style of the Libyans' campaign may be attributed to their determinedly people-to-people approach.

"We are trying to inform the American people of the erroneous politics of their government toward the Middle East . . .," Libyan Foreign Minister Ali Turyaki explained earlier this month.

An Idahoan who accompanied some of the Libyans who visited his state, Farm Bureau executive vice-president Lynn Parke of Pocatello, puts it this way: "They have the feeling they can deal with the people of a country -- being from a socialist country themselves -- rather than through the established line. What they don't realize is that here the established line ism the people."

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