Louis Susman, the U.S. ambassador in London, condemned the British government's efforts to reintegrate Gadhafi into the international diplomatic community. "I would suggest that to deal with [Gadhafi is] to give him greater stature, greater ability on the world front to look like he is a good citizen is a mistake," he told the BBC on Sunday. "I would hope that the whole concept of how people deal with Gadhafi will be under review."
Susman's criticism was seemingly directed at former Prime Minister Tony Blair's attempts to bring the pariah nation in from the cold. In 2004, Blair held a historic summit with Gadhafi in Tripoli, where he announced a "new relationship" between the U.K. and Libya.
The North African leader agreed to join the fight against al-Qaida, stop funding terrorism and abandon his weapons of mass destruction program. In return, British businesses would set up profitable operations in the country. That same day, Libya announced a $900 million exploration deal with Anglo-Dutch energy giant Shell. Three years later, BP signed a comparable offshore oil-exploration deal with Gadhafi.
British arms companies have also profited from the detente. In the first nine months of 2010, British daily The Guardian reports, the U.K. government approved the sale to Libya of military and crowd-control equipment worth $325 million. Items authorized for export included tear gas canisters, small arms ammunition, weapon sights and sniper rifles.
The U.K. Foreign Office revoked all export licenses to Libya this weekend. However, it didn't explain why those exports had been approved in the first place. According to official guidelines, the government is not allowed to "issue an export license if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression."
Libya would appear to have met the criteria for a "clear risk," as human rights groups have long blamed Gadhafi for the systematic torture, murder and imprisonment of opposition figures.
Mona Rishmawi, a legal adviser to the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights, said there was now a "real question mark" over arms sales to the regime, The Daily Telegraph reported. More than 300 people are thought to have been killed in the Libyan government's crackdown on protesters -- some of whom may have been fired on with British weapons -- and Rishmawi said there was a "possibility" that the U.K. may be guilty of "complicity in human rights violations."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague has loudly condemned the killing of protesters and told Sky News that he intends to "increase the international pressure" on Gadhafi's regime. But he defended Blair's friendly approach to Libya.
"The improvement in relations with Libya during the 1990s did help to ensure that Libya stopped pursuing a ... weapons of mass destruction program," he told the British broadcaster. "So there were important gains for the international community in trying to normalize relations with Libya."
But many Brits don't accept that argument. U.K. newspapers today are brimming with damning opinion pieces, accusing Blair of strengthening a repressive regime and brushing aside Gadhafi's past attacks on the U.K. and its Western allies in exchange for cheap oil.
The critics contend that Libyan agents armed the Irish Republican Army with explosives and guns, which were used in terror attacks in the U.K. and Ireland. Then, in 1984, British policewoman Yvonne Fletcher was killed by a gunman who fired from inside the Libyan Embassy in London. No one has ever been prosecuted for her death.
American Susan Cohen, whose 20-year-old daughter Theodora died in the Lockerbie bombing, said the government in London must accept some of the blame for the violence now unfolding in Libya.
"This is what you get for appeasement," she told the Daily Mail. "The dreadful bloodshed we are seeing on the streets of Libya is in part due to the disgusting behavior of the British government."