AFP – MADRID – Spain welcomed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for an official visit Monday, joining France in rolling out the red carpet for the former pariah who is now seeking reconciliation with the West.
Gadhafi, long a vocal champion of armed struggle and once ostracized by the world community as a sponsor of terrorism, has been trying to build normal relations with European countries after renouncing terrorism and nuclear weapons.
He visited France last week and paid a private visit to the Andalusia region of southern Spain over the weekend. On Monday he held talks with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and King Juan Carlos and on Tuesday he is scheduled to meet business representatives. It is the Libyan leader’s first official trip to Spain.
He was greeted at Madrid airport by Defense Minister Jose Antonio Alonso. He then traveled to El Pardo palace on the Spanish capital’s outskirts where he was greeted by the king.
In keeping with the desert tradition of his region, Gadhafi has had a green Bedouin tent set up in the gardens of the Pardo to receive guests. The Pardo palace is the official residence for dignitaries visiting Spain.
Spain has important economic interests in Libya, especially in the energy sector.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was the first Western leader to offer Gadhafi an official visit since his falling-out with the West in the 1980s. Spain is the second country to allow a visit.
In actions welcomed by the West, Gadhafi agreed in 2003 to dismantle his country’s nuclear weapons program, offered compensation to the families of those killed in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, and approved compensation for the families of 170 victims of the 1989 bombing of a French UTA passenger jet