Friday August 26, 2011 | 01:05 PM

(Updated below with a statement by a McCain spokesman and a Collins spokeswoman)

When Sen. John McCain made a promise of U.S. military equipment to help the now former Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi, according to a diplomatic cable revealed by the web site Wikileaks, Susan Collins, R-Maine, was among the senators present at the 2009 meeting.

Qadhafi was present at the meeting, but he apparently didn’t say much, letting his  son and (now former) national security advisor Muatassim Qadhafi take the lead.

While the cable about McCain’s promise of supplying Qadhafi with American military equipment is just now coming out, in a seeming contrast to the Arizona Republican’s current statements that the end of the dictator’s regime is a good thing because he backed terrorists, Collins publicized the meeting at the time, writing a blog item about it.

The meeting took place during a trip to the Middle East by four members of the Senate Armed Services Committee: McCain, Collins and Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“The lead-up to our meeting with Colonel Qadhafi was bizarre indeed,” Collins wrote, saying that the time was changed several times before the lawmakers were, “Whisked off at 9:40 p.m. in a convey for a 40-minute drive to a secret location on the outskirts of Tripoli. There an enormous tent had been erected for our meetings, first with Qadhafi's son, who is the national security advisor, and then with Qadhafi himself. The tent was air-conditioned and outfitted with lavish carpets, couches, and coffee tables. Apparently, Qadhafi is on the move constantly and rarely spends two nights in the same place.

Collins at the time wrote that the lawmakers “discussed a host of issues. I focused my comments on the need for Libya to proceed with an agreement to transfer highly enriched uranium from his nuclear program.”

(Updated as of 7:15 p.m..: A Collins spokeswoman said this evening that at the 200 meeting Collins made two points. "First, she inquired about the status of uranium that the US wanted Qaddafi to transfer out of the country," said Collins spokeswoman E.R. Anderson. "And second, she told Qadhafi that our country would react very negatively to the Lockerbie bomber receiving a hero's welcome upon his release and return to Libya." Collins did not comment, however, about the issue of whether McCain made any promises to Libyan officials about U.S. military assistance.")

According to the leaked U.S. diplomatic cable, McCain did stress to Qadhafi that Libya had to honor its pledge to give up weapons of mass destruction for U.S.-Libyan diplomatic relations to move ahead. But the document also says that McCain, “Described the bilateral military relationship as strong and pointed to Libyan officer training at U.S. Command, staff, and war colleges as some of the best programs for Libyan military participation.”

Other than saying she attended the meeting, the leaked cable does not mention Collins.

(Updated as of 5 p.m. Brian Rogers, McCain’s communication’s director, released a statement saying that while Qadhafi and other Libyan officials raised the issue of military assistance McCain did not make any promises. Here is Rogers’ complete statement:

"Two years ago, in August 2009, Senators McCain, Lieberman, Graham, and Collins visited Tripoli, Libya at a time when Muammar Qadhafi was taking positive steps to give up his nuclear weapons programs and related materials and to renounce terrorism. The issue of potential U.S. military assistance to Libya was raised by Qadhafi and other Libyan officials. At no point did Senator McCain ever promise to help the Qadhafi regime secure U.S. military assistance. Upon the his return to Washington, there were no follow-up discussions and no actions taken by Senator McCain or his staff to provide the Qadhafi regime with C-130s or any other military assistance. We have clarified this issue a number of times since the cable was released by Wikileaks months ago, and it is unfortunate that Politico chose to publish this story before seeking comment or context from us.

"There has been no greater champion than Senator McCain for Libya's democratic revolution and for the toppling of the brutal Qahdafi regime.")

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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