Prior to its independence in 1951, the territory comprising present-day Libya (Tripoli) had been a semi-independent province of the Ottoman Empire from 1711 to 1835, an Italian colony from 1912 until 1947, and was under British and French occupation from 1943 to 1951. The United States was recognized by Tripoli in 1796, but permanent diplomatic relations were not established until modern Libya’s independence following World War II. From 1980 until 2006, the U.S. did not have an open Embassy in Libya, although relations were not formally severed.
Modern Flag of Libya
U.S. Minister to Great Britain John Adams entered into treaty negotiations with Abdurrahman, the Tripolitan diplomat stationed in London in February of 1786, but the negotiations were inconclusive. Abdurrahman stated that without a treaty, the Tripolitan government would regard the United States and Tripoli to be at war with one another. The Tripolitan government formally recognized U.S. independence by the signing of a peace treaty in Tripoli on November 4, 1796. The treaty was subsequently also signed by the Dey of Algiers, who claimed authority over Tripolitan affairs, although this authority was denied by Pasha Yusuf Qaramanli. The subsequent treaty between the United States and Tripoli, signed on June 10, 1805, was concluded without Algerian supervision.
Tripolitan authority to conduct international relations ended when the Ottoman Empire chose to reassert its formerly nominal suzerainty over its Libyan provinces in 1835. The Ottoman Empire formally ceded Libya to Italy under the Treaty of Ouchy on October 18, 1912. Libya formally remained an Italian colony until 1947, when Italy relinquished its claims upon Libya, which had been under joint Franco-British occupation since 1943.
The United States recognized the United Kingdom of Libya on December 24, 1951, in a congratulatory message sent by President Harry Truman to King Idris I. Libya declared its independence on this date after the former Italian colony had been administered jointly by France and Great Britain following World War II.
James Leander Cathcart arrived in Tripoli to assume his duties as U.S. Consul on April 5, 1799. Yusuf Qaramanli, Pasha of Tripoli, formally accepted Cathcart’s credentials between that date and April 15, when he stated his acceptance of Cathcart in a letter to U.S. President John Adams. The Consulate closed on May 14, 1801 owing to the beginning of the Tripolitan War. Tobias Lear, who conducted the 1805 peace negotiations, appointed John Ridgely “U.S. agent” for Tripoli, but it is unclear if this was a consular position, or if it meant Ridgely was a signatory to the treaty. The Consulate had re-opened by 1807, when George Davis was U.S. consul at Tripoli. Although Tripoli ceased to be an independent state after 1835, the consulate remained open until July 22, 1882, when it was closed by order of Congress. The office re-opened on June 10, 1908, closed again on August 15, 1916, reopened April 24, 1935, closed again March 15, 1937, then reestablished June 6, 1948. The office was raised to the rank of Consulate General July 1, 1949.
Diplomatic relations and the American Legation in Libya were established on December 24, 1951, when the American Consulate General was elevated to a Legation with Andrew Lynch designated as Charge d’Affaires ad interim.
John N. Gatch, Jr., was serving as Chargé d'Affaires ad interim when the Legation in Libya was raised to Embassy status, September 25, 1954. John L. Tappin was appointed Ambassador on the same day, and presented his credentials on November 16, 1954.
U.S. Chargé d’Affaires William Eagleton, Jr. was recalled February 8, 1980, and the U.S. Embassy at Tripoli closed May 2, 1980, and the Libyan People’s Bureau in Washington closed on May 6, 1981. Relations were not formally severed during this time.
The United States established an Interests Section at the Belgian Embassy in Tripoli, February 8, 2004. It became the U.S. Liaison Office on June 28, with Gregory L. Berry as the Principal Officer. Libyan diplomats reestablished a presence in Washington on July 8, 2004, when they opened the Libyan Interests Section as part of the United Arab Emirates Embassy, Libya’s protecting power.
On May 31, 2006, the United States resumed full diplomatic relations with Libya, and the Liaison Office in Tripoli became an Embassy, with Gregory L. Berry became Charge d'Affaires ad interim.
United States relations with Libya deteriorated sharply when Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi tried to suppress an uprising against his regime in 2011. On February 25, 2011, the United States suspended Embassy operations in Tripoli. On March 16, the United States ordered the Libyan Government to suspend its Embassy operations in Washington.
The United States appointed a Special Representative to the Transitional National Council in Benghazi in March 2011 and maintained a diplomatic presence there from April 2011 to September 2012. The U.S. Government officially recognized the Transitional National Council (TNC) as the legitimate government of Libya on July 15, 2011. On September 22, 2011, the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli resumed operations.
The U.S. Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens and three other American colleagues were killed on September 11, 2012, during an attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi. Following the death of Ambassador Stevens, the American Embassy in Tripoli was headed by Chargé Greg Hicks.