Despite Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi's difficulties with the West, an international consortium led by United States and Italian firms is pushing construction of a multibillion dollar desert industrial complex that may become Libya's new capital city.
Neither indignation at Billy Carter's difficulties over his lobbying for Libya, nor Western mistrust for Colonel Qaddafi's efforts to spread revolution seem to have slowed work on the new Libyan petrochemical complex of Ras Lanuf.
The complex is located on the Gulf of Sirte between Libya's two biggest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi.
Italian investors say Ras Lanuf is the biggest industrial project yet seen in north Africa. The Texas consulting and contracting firm, Brown & Root, as management consultant, is coordinating the work which began in 1978.
Appropriately, Ras Lanuf's refinery, ethylene plant, pipelines, new harbor, and two complete new towns are rising in the territory of the Al Qadaffh nomads, Colonel Qaddafi's own tribe. It was moved there from the original site at Tobruk near the Egyptian border, scene of recent military mutinies against Colonel Qaddafi, after the fierce July 1977 Egyptian-Libyan desert fighting.
Colonel Qaddafi made one of his increasingly rare public appearances at Ras Lanuf last June 11. He led ceremonies commemorating US evacuation in 1970 of its former airbase at Wheelus Field. Since then, Libyan sources have begun saying that Colonel Qaddafi wants to move his capital from Tripoli to Ras Lanuf.
The suggested name for the new capital is already unofficially circulating: Al-Wasat, Arabic for "the middle." This signifies its median position between Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya's traditional rival cities and power centers, neither of which Colonel Qaddafi is said to like or trust much.
Other major US firms involved include Raymond International Builders, the ESL corporation, Dames & Moore, and Chicago Bridge & Iron Company. Italy's Impresa, Lodigiani, Saipem, and Snamprogetti also have major stakes.
The latest contract, valued at $350 million, has gone to South Korea's Hyundai Construction Company, a firm often associated with US efforts in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Mideast. The contract is for civil engineering work on a proposed nine-berth seaport at Ras Lanuf, near the location of Mobil Oil Corporation's old coastal oil refinery.
Japanese, British, West German, French, and Bulgarian firms are in the consortium. Businessmen here say that Colonel Qaddafi has exempted Ras Lanuf from bureaucratic red tape, slowing many other Libyan development projects.
However, the London magazine, Middle East Economic Digest (MEED), reported the Libyan armed forces requisitioned all the cement from the site earlier this year. Construction workers heard it was to be used for Libya's new "great wall" along the hostile border with Egypt.
An American site manager was expelled and flown home when he refused to cooperate in building a triumphal arch celebrating the US evacuation ceremony, describing this as "disgracing his country," MEED reported.
The United States has bought Libya's high-grade oil since 1961, and now pays about $23 million a day for it, US government figures show.The approximately 640 ,000 barrels per day (bpd) the US imports, more than one-third of Libya's 1.7 million bpd, has helped Libya build up foreign reserves in gold and foreign currency of about $10 billion. These finance both projects such as Ras Lanuf and Colonel Qaddafi's military and political adventures abroad.
The independent US oil company, Charter, said recently it talked with Billy Carter in 1979 in hopes of getting an extra 100,000 bpd of oil from Libya, after Colonel Qaddafi ordered gradual cutbacks in deliveries to all Western oil companies.
The Libyan leader has publicly threatened to cut off all oil to the US unless Washington moves toward a more pro-Palestinian policy in the Mideast by this October.