Tripoli, 4 December:
Veteran British cabinet minister Ken Clarke is in Tripoli leading a trade mission by the London-based business group, the . . .[restrict]Middle East Association. With some 22 companies and organisations present in the group, the MEA mission covers a wide spectrum of British expertise focussed on Libya, from providing education and healthcare and environmental facilities to defence, security and aviation services.
The mission was to have arrived on 15 September, but the killing of US ambassador Chris Stephens resulted in the visit being postponed.
Clarke, who has served in office under four British prime ministers, has held a number of ministerial posts, including those of Home Secretary (Interior Minister) and Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister). He now serves as Minister without Portfolio in the Cameron government, a post which he reputedly says effectively means that he has several areas to look after. One of his officials roles is to help promote trade with a number of countries, Libya among them.
His presence together the MEA visit is seen as fitting into an increased UK business focus on Libya in the wake of the new Ali Zeidan government taking office. It is the second UK trade mission in three weeks and the Foreign Office Minister responsible for Middle East and North Africa Affairs, Alistair Birt, is expected in a few days’ time.
It was a pleasure and very exciting to be in Libya, Clarke told guests at a mission reception in Tripoli on Monday evening attended also by Libyan Defence Minister Mohammed Al-Barghathi. Clarke said he was “very interested” in how the new Libya was progressing.
He emphasised that UK prime Minister David Cameron had an “obvious” interest in Libya’s future because of his decision last year, along with that of France, to take action last year and prevent the Qaddafi regime from killing Libyan people. “We helped avert a humanitarian catastrophe”, he stated.
Cameron now very much wanted the UK to get involved in the reconstruction of Libya, Clerke added.
Britain, he said, trusted that “the new Libya with the old flag” would progress and prosper. “We will do everything to help”, he said.
The same message was conveyed by British Ambassador Michael Aron. The UK “feels strongly” about the new Libya, he said. It was a “key priority for the British government and this was “an excellent time” for British companies to come to the country to talk to minister and ministries about the country’s development. [/restrict]