[This is the headline over a long article published today on the Newsnet Scotland website. It reads in part:]
A former advisor to Tony Blair has claimed that the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) drafted by Blair and Col Gaddafi in the ‘deal in the desert’ was a 'reward' for Libya having given up its nuclear weapons.
The claim was made by John MacTernan who is a former special adviser to Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy and who was Tony Blair’s political secretary at the time of the secret deal.
Mr MacTernan denied that the PTA was related to the BP oil deal signed that same day saying: “The Prisoner Transfer Agreement was a deal, but it was a deal to recognise the fact that Gaddafi had given up his nuclear weapons.
“If the price for Libya giving up nuclear weapons was that Megrahi served his sentence and died in a Libyan jail the British government would have been happy with that”. (...)
[There follows a long account of UK and US dealings with Libya that culminated in the announcement that both countries were satisfied that Libya's nuclear weapons programme had been dismantled. The article continues:]
The claim by Mr MacTernan that the PTA was recognition by the UK of Libya’s removal of her WMDs may be partly true. However it seems unlikely that the UK government would offer the return to Libya of the UK’s most infamous mass murderer (victims mostly American) and seek nothing in return.
The question is though, is there anything that links Libya's abandonment of WMDs, the 'deal in the desert' and the signing of the BP oil contract?
Well yes, in the shape of another key player Sir Mark Allen.
Sir Mark was in charge of the Middle East and Africa department at MI6 until he left in 2004 to become an adviser to BP.
The former Oxford graduate is also the man credited with helping to persuade the Libyans to abandon their development of weapons of mass destruction in 2003.
It is known Sir Mark lobbied then justice secretary Jack Straw to speed up negotiations over the prisoner transfer agreement to avoid jeopardising a major trade deal with Libya. He made two phone calls to Mr Straw - who later let slip Sir Mark's involvement to a select committee.
Mr Straw said: "I knew Sir Mark from my time at the Foreign Office - he has an extensive knowledge of Libya and the Middle East and I thought he was worth listening to."
If Mr MacTernan’s ‘nuclear’ bombshell was an an attempt at diverting attention away from BP’s involvement in the deal in the desert it hasn't succeeded. It has served only to invite scrutiny of the UK, US, Libyan negotiations from December 2003 and draw attention to the very close diplomatic relations that were ongoing.
Far from separating the PTA from the BP contract, Mr MacTernan's statement seems to have drawn them closer together.