Three years ago, then Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi stood at the U.N. General Assembly podium, held up a copy of the U.N. Charter, and declared he would not recognize its authority.
This afternoon, Mohammed Magarrief, the president of Libya's national assembly, affirmed his commitment to the charter and issued an apology to the membership for the crimes committed by Libya's former ruler.
"Three years ago, a despot who ruled my country for 42 years with oppression and an iron fist stood on this very rostrum and tore a copy of the charter of the United Nations," he said. "Today, I am standing on the very same rostrum affirming my country's support of the charter of the United Nations and our respect for it."
Dressed in a crisp Western business suit, Libya's new leader sought to present a starkly different image from Qaddafi, who was known for his often outlandish robes and designer sunglasses.
In contrast to the long, rambling anti-imperial rants that characterized his predecessor's U.N. speeches, Magarrief spoke from a prepared text, and remained on the podium for about 27 minutes, longer than 15 minutes allotted, but a far cry from Qaddafi's interminable monologues.
He sought to assure other countries that his government would seek to get along with the international community and abide by the rules of the road.
Qaddafi funneled weapons to insurgent groups throughout the continent, fueling conflicts from West Africa to Sudan, and he played a role in some of the most audacious acts of international terror, including the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, an attack that killed 243 passengers, 16 crew members, and 11 people on the ground.
"I stand before you today, before the entire world, to apologize for all the harm, all the crimes committed by that despot against so many innocents, to apologize for the extortion and terrorism he meted on so many states," Magarrief said.
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.