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Moammar Kadafi gives U.N. his opinions on Obama, on N.Y., on jet lag -- and more

Libyan leader praises Obama, saying the U.S. should make him president for life. In a rambling speech, he also criticizes the Security Council and says the U.N. should move outside the U.S.

September 24, 2009|Tina Susman

THE UNITED NATIONS — Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi had a lot to gripe about: He was jet-lagged. There was no comfortable place to plant his tent. Some of the diplomats on the floor of the U.N. General Assembly were distracted.

"Please pay attention!" he said at one point Wednesday during his more than 90-minute speech, his first at the General Assembly.

Nevertheless, Kadafi offered a virtual valentine to none other than President Obama, his predecessor on the podium, praising him as a glimmer of hope for the next few years and suggesting that he take a cue from Libya and become president-for-life.

"We are content and happy if Obama can stay forever as the president of the United States," said Kadafi, Libya's leader since a military coup in 1969.

Obama wasn't in the room to receive the diplomatic kiss; he had left the hall after his own speech, as had Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice.

Kadafi's 40 years of one-man control has put him at odds with U.S. leadership, which only recently -- in 2007 -- removed Libya from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Lately, Kadafi has presided over a hero's welcome marking the return to Tripoli of a Libyan agent convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, and watched Western governments that once vilified him beat a path to his door in search of oil contracts. Once a pariah, Kadafi fulfilled a long-anticipated coming-out on the global stage with his U.N. speech.

Dressed in a flowing, coffee-colored cloak with a black pin of Africa sparkling on its front, he did not mention the release of Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi from a Scottish prison last month in a speech that veered from harsh denunciations of the U.S.-led Iraq invasion -- the "mother of all evils" -- to the praise for Obama.

"We Africans are happy, proud that a son of Africa governs the United States of America," said Kadafi, calling Obama's U.N. speech appealing for global unity "completely different." "We applaud that."

But he expressed fear that when Obama's presidency ends, the world could go "back to square one" if the wrong leader replaces him.

Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served as deputy national security advisor for the Middle East and North Africa under the Bush administration, said it wasn't unusual for Kadafi to personalize relationships with world leaders even when trashing their policies.

"It's not surprising that he thinks it normal to adore Obama while assaulting America," Abrams said.

Kadafi denounced the abuse of Iraqi detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison, condemned the U.N. Security Council as an elitist group dominated by superpowers with no respect for smaller countries, and criticized the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Somalia.

"There was a civil war in America. No one interfered," said Kadafi, who at one point tossed some of his notes over his shoulder.

Speakers are encouraged to keep their addresses relatively short -- 15 minutes or so -- but they rarely do, and there is no system for removing those who go long. Among other things, Kadafi called for new investigations of the killings of John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, Martin Luther King Jr. and a host of others.

Kadafi's address fell far short of the record held by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who spoke for nearly 4 1/2 hours in 1960.

Like his speech, Kadafi's visit to New York has been stormy. His plan to pitch a large Bedouin tent on a Libyan-owned estate in New Jersey was quashed when area residents and state officials objected. On Wednesday, residents of the New York suburb of Bedford, about 40 miles north of Manhattan, objected to the tent being erected on property there. According to the Associated Press, the Libyan mission also asked to pitch the tent in Central Park.

Eventually, the AP said, he was housed at the Libyan diplomatic mission.

Wherever Kadafi slept, he didn't get enough.

"I'm jet-lagged," he said to the General Assembly, complaining that he had been awake since 4 a.m. and demanding that the U.N. be moved out of the United States, whose security measures are like "being a prisoner in the Guantanamo camp, where there is no free movement."

Not only would a move relieve the pressure on the United States to safeguard hundreds of heads of state and their delegates, it would make it far easier for people having to travel across time zones to reach the U.N., he said.

"This place is a target," Kadafi said. "Perhaps America will be targeted by a rocket. We want to relieve America of this worry."

--

tina.susman@latimes.com

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