A Republican congressman led a delegation of Americans into uncharted territory Monday: a meeting with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and a tour of a Libyan nuclear reactor.
The extraordinary meeting _ in a tent beside the ruins of Gadhafi's house, bombed by U.S. warplanes _ is a hallmark of improving relations between the United States and Libya after decades of animosity.
"It was an extremely positive two hours," said the delegation's leader, Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa. "We discussed the hope that we will achieve normal relations soon."
While lawmakers said there was little discussion of remaining points of contention between the countries _ Libya's policy toward Israel, for example _ they were impressed with Gadhafi, who wore a purple robe and cap.
"He came across as a very sincere man," said Rep. Solomon Ortiz, a Texas Democrat.
The meeting took place in a white tent erected beside the wreckage of Gadhafi's house, destroyed by U.S. bombs in 1986. A child said to be Gadhafi's adopted daughter was killed in the attack.
The two nations have come a long way since then. In recent months, Gadhafi has renounced his support for terrorist organizations and invited U.S., British and U.N. experts to dismantle his previously secret programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The lawmakers said they were convinced Gadhafi wants desperately to come back in from the cold after decades of U.S. and U.N. sanctions imposed for his support of terrorists.
In addition to Weldon and Ortiz, the delegation comprises Louisiana Democrat Rodney Alexander and Republicans Darrell Issa of California, Candice Miller of Michigan, Mark Souder of Indiana and Elton Gallegly of California.
Another American lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos of California, is in Libya on a separate visit. He landed in Libya on Saturday in the first visit by an elected U.S. official in 38 years.
Lantos, the senior Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, met for 90 minutes with Gadhafi before the other U.S. delegation arrived, and emerged saying the Bush administration should show "good faith" toward the North African leader.
In a telephone interview from the Netherlands on his way home, Lantos said he would recommend that the White House lift a ban on travel to Libya.