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For the first time in more than a quarter of a century, the United States and Libya have agreed to cooperate in various fields of science and technology.

The plans were announced during last week's (10-13 July) visit to Libya by Paula Dobriansky, the US under secretary of state for democracy and global affairs.

The move is the latest to mark an ongoing thaw in diplomatic relations between the two nations. In May, the United States said it would restore full diplomatic ties with Libya after a 26-year suspension introduced when Libyan protestors ransacked the US embassy in Tripoli in December 1979.

"Now diplomatic relations are re-established there is sincere mutual interest in and a great potential for these new collaborations," says William Colglazier, executive officer of the US National Academy of Sciences and a member of the US delegation visiting Libya.

"I expressed our interest in collaborations with Libyan scientists and scientific institutions and heard from our Libyan colleagues their priority areas for joint workshops and exchanges," he told SciDev.Net.

Under the agreement, the two countries will cooperate on issues including education, health, water and the environment. In agriculture, the plan has a special focus on fighting desertification, and the United States will train Libyan researchers to work in this field. 

In addition the US Department of Health and Human Services will run a US$1 million programme to help Libya face the threat of bird flu. It will involve upgrading Libya's disease surveillance and response measures and strengthening its laboratory capacity.

Gibril Eljrushi, dean of the faculty of engineering at the 7 October University in Misurata, Libya, told SciDev.Net that the plan could be important for Libyan higher education and research institutions.

"These are in a bad shape," he said. "There is a real need for support and development from US counterparts. We need an intensive cooperation in science and technology, education, solar energy, the environment, and industry."