World and Nation

US eyes business opportunities in Libya as the embassy reopens

TRIPOLI, Libya — The United States formally reopened its embassy in Libya Thursday as the returning ambassador said that his government was cautiously optimistic about the country’s future and already trying to help U.S. companies exploit business opportunities there.

Speaking to reporters after the ceremonial flag raising over a makeshift post that was once his residence, Ambassador Gene A. Cretz said that about two weeks ago — roughly a week after forces loyal to the deposed Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, were driven out of Tripoli — he had participated in a State Department conference call with about 150 U.S. companies hoping to do business with Libya.

“We know that oil is the jewel in the crown of Libyan natural resources, but even in Gadhafi’s time they were starting from A to Z in terms of building infrastructure and other things” after the country had begun opening up to the West six years ago, he said. “If we can get U.S. companies here on a fairly big scale, which we will try to do everything we can to do that, then this will redound to improve the situation in the United States with respect to our own jobs.”

His remarks were a rare nod to the tacit economic stakes in the Libyan conflict for the United States and other Western countries, not only because of Libya’s oil resources but also because of the goods and services those resources enable it to purchase.

Oil was never the “predominant reason” for the U.S. intervention, Cretz said, but his comments — which came at a moment when the fighters who chased out Gadhafi had not yet caught him or fully vanquished his forces — underlined the U.S. eagerness for a cut of any potential profits.

Libya’s provisional government has already said it is eager to welcome Western businesses, although both Cretz and the Libyan leaders acknowledged that addressing the rampant corruption of the Gadhafi era remains a potential hurdle.