Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi (his preferred spelling of a name with many variations in English) is the best-known son of Muammar Kaddafi, the Libyan ruler once called "the most dangerous man in the world." Lately, Kaddafi has emerged as a newfound friend of the west, renouncing terror, giving up weapons of mass destruction, and opening Libya for business. Qadhafi, 35, has no official post in government, yet has played a key role in building Libya's ties to the West. Last week he spoke to NEWSWEEK's Christopher Dickey about that role and the recent deal to free five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian intern who had been accused of spreading HIV to children in a Libyan hospital. In return for their freedom, Libya got millions of dollars and a nuclear cooperation deal. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: What role did you play in the prisoner deal?
Qadhafi: I was the main negotiator. I laid down the roadmap in order to find an exit from this issue ... And then the Europeans said, "Well, we are not happy with that roadmap." But I think finally they seem happy now.
French First Lady Cécilia Sarkozy was in Libya for the release and flew with the prisoners to Bulgaria. What role did she play?
She is the last person to come interfere in that issue and she is the person who took the medics with her back home. She's very lucky. Lots of people tried in the past.
What did the French offer that nobody else did?
You know, we are talking about hundreds of millions of euros to support the health sector of Libya. And it's not just about money, but about management and technical support ... to run the hospital, to manage the hospital with the French staff and to link it to the French hospitals.
And the Europeans had not offered this?
They offered, but at a very limited scale.
And how about the nuclear facility?
Yeah, the nuclear also ... We are going to buy a nuclear reactor from France. It's a very huge one and very expensive.
How much, more or less?
Oh, I don't know. Billions ... It's a huge reactor ... And the French [also] managed to bring [us] money in order to pay the families [of more than 400 HIV-infected children, most likely the victims of bad hospital hygiene].
People say that money came from Qatar ... .
It's not our business to ask where the money [came] from.
Can we put a dollar figure on the package?
We are talking not less than €300 million for the hospital in Benghazi. For the families it's about another €400 million, something like this. And the Bulgarians and Slovakia and other European countries wrote off their debt with Libya. And then they gave again more.
What do you say to people who say this was blackmail and it worked?
Blackmail? Maybe. It is blackmail, but the Europeans also blackmailed us. Yeah, it's an immoral game, but they set the rules of the game, the Europeans, and now they are paying the price ... Everyone tries to play with this card to advance his own interest back home.
In Washington, your father's decision to give up WMD programs in late 2003 was a turning point. Why did he make that decision?
Because finally your enemies come to you and say, "OK, now we are friends and we can do this together, and we can even help you if somebody is attacking you and we'll defend your country, and we'll do business together." The rules of the game have changed. People whom you fight in the past, now you are signing a military accord with them.
There's talk about Libya helping in the fight against Al Qaeda.
We are not fighting Al Qaeda. To be very precise, we are fighting other groups similar to Al Qaeda ... In Libya we have one or two terrorist groups, and there has been cooperation with America to fight those groups.
Your father's role in Libya is hard to define: he's the leader, but he's not the president.
Yes, it is very complicated, I know.
And your role?
This is also complicated. [As head of the Qadhafi Foundation,] I represent the voice of civil society. And if you are an active member in the Libyan civil society, you can criticize the government because you're not a part of it. Sometimes you work with the government, sometimes not. And this gives you this margin of flexibility, because I'm not an official. In another capacity, I'm the son of the leader, and in that capacity I do business with the rest of the world. I have different hats.
People speculate you'll be the next leader of Libya.
I think the most important thing is to have a transparent and a clear political mechanism which shows everyone how to govern, how to cooperate, how to succeed. In other words, we need a constitution. Because now we don't have a constitution [and] nothing is well defined. And because nothing is well defined, you open the door for rumors, speculation, expectations ... My new target is to have a constitution ratified by every Libyan.
Is your father in agreement with that?
I think so. Maybe not 100 percent. But he's in "a percentage" of agreement.
Enough so you think it will happen?
Enough. I think so.