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British foreign minister visits oil-rich Libya

NATO members in March worried about violence threatening Libyan oil and the associated infrastructure.

By Daniel J. Graeber
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visits Benghazi, Libya, the first such visit by a British official since 2011. London said it was interested in peace and stability in OPEC-member Libya. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/401b0f8fec694a1897c03f0b59a11d83/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visits Benghazi, Libya, the first such visit by a British official since 2011. London said it was interested in peace and stability in OPEC-member Libya. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 25 (UPI) -- A NATO member with a legacy of energy-related interests, the British government said it was working to ensure Libya evolves as a safe and stable partner.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson met with Libyan military officials in Benghazi, marking the first time for such a visit since 2011. The British government said the visit was an indication of its interest in working to bring peace and stability to Libya.

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"A secure and stable Libya, better able to deal with the threat from terrorism and the challenge of migration, is firmly in the United Kingdom's interests," the minister said in a statement.

At the time of the last visit by a British minister to Benghazi, the government was defending its position to wade into Libya's civil war against allegations of exploiting the conflict for oil. British energy giant BP estimated in 2008 that the North African state has proven reserves of around 41.5 billion barrels and 1.49 trillion cubic meters of gas, which constitute the 10th-largest oil and gas reserves on the planet.

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BP was among those companies scrambling to win contracts from Tripoli to explore 21,000 square miles of the Sahara for untapped oil and gas. In 2011, then-Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC the involvement in the conflict was "not about Libyan oil."

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Former Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted for the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, was released by Scottish officials in August 2009 on compassionate grounds because of a terminal prostate cancer diagnosis. Critics claim his release was tied to oil exploration plans for Libya.

NATO members in March, meanwhile, expressed concern about the political and military divisions that kept Libya divided. In a joint statement, French, British and U.S. ambassadors to Libya voiced strong condemnation over the escalation of violence that threatened Libyan oil and the associated infrastructure.

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Libya is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and is exempt from a multilateral effort to balance an oversupplied global market for crude oil with managed production declines. Libya produced about 1 million barrels of oil per day in July, up 18 percent from the previous month.

U.S. envoy to Libya Chris Stevens and three members of his security staff died during an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012.

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