German warplanes did not make any forays over Libya during the NATO-supported conflict that ousted Moammar Gadhafi last year. But now the German foreign minister has ventured into Tripoli to discuss the future.
German Foreign Minster Guido Westerwelle touched down in Libya on Sunday for a one-day visit, sandwiched between trips to Algeria and Tunisia.
Before leaving for Tripoli, Westerwelle pledged that Germany would stand by Libya "as a friend and partner" as the country seeks to rebuild and establish democratic governance after last year's conflict.
"After decades of dictatorship, the country is facing some massive challenges," Westerwelle said, naming "a successful shift to a pluralist society" as the single greatest challenge.
Berlin is seeking to build bridges with Libya's new leadership after German leaders' controversial abstention from a UN Security Council vote on enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya in 2011 - a measure that soon morphed into the provision of tactical air support for the opponents of Gadhafi's regime.
"We will not take part in the military operation in Libya with the German armed forces," Westerwelle said at the time of the decision that saw Germany side with Brazil, China, India and Russia on the 15-member council. "We have clearly decided that Germany will take no part in this war in Libya."
German leaders later offered to take on some extra duties in Afghanistan instead, with a view to freeing up other NATO jets for service over Libya. Germany's laws on combat, largely written in the years after World War Two, clearly designate the country's military as a defensive force only.
The abstention was not well received by Libya's revolutionary leaders. Then, to add fuel to the fire, Gadhafi publicly thanked Westerwelle and Chancellor Angela Merkel, promising improved trade ties with Germany in the future. The rebels, meanwhile, suggested that they would remember this UN vote when establishing their own trade policies.
Last June, on a visit to the rebel stronghold in Benghazi, Westerwelle recognized the National Transitional Council as Libya's legitimate rulers, saying the German decision not to take part in NATO's military mission in Libya "did not mean we were neutral."
Westerwelle had not visited Tripoli since Gadhafi's regime crumbled last October. He was set to meet with the transitional government's leader Abdurrahim al-Keib, as well as one of al-Keib's cabinet ministers.
The German foreign minister also planned a visit with a group of people who were wounded in the conflict and then taken to Germany for treatment. Over 1,000 Libyans have received German medical care in this manner.
Westerwelle gave an interview with the "Libya Gedida" newspaper ahead of his visit in which he reiterated a point made at the UN Security Council last March - that the decision not to support a NATO intervention had been a difficult one to make.
"Germany was always on the front line among those using tougher sanctions to put increased political pressure on Gadhafi," Westerwelle told the paper. "We stood, along with our partners in the Libya Contact Group, firmly on the side of a democratic Libya."
European solar power firms have fixed their gaze on the North African deserts
Westerwelle's three-country North African tour has a heavy trade focus, and the foreign minister is being accompanied by several commercial representatives. Despite the common focus on Libyan oil reserves, some of the most notable delegates represent the solar power sector.
Westerwelle's visit concludes on Monday with a visit to Tunisia, the first country to usher in regime change as part of the so-called Arab Spring movement.
Author: Mark Hallam (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Sean Sinico