Wednesday, 14 January 2015

US-Libya rapprochement following Lockerbie trial

[The following are excerpts from an article by Robert S Greenberger published in The Wall Street Journal on this date in 2002:]

Libya's Col Moammar Gadhafi, is attempting a rehabilitation.

Top US and Libyan officials have held several unpublicized meetings in England and Switzerland in recent years to discuss improving ties. Public-relations campaigns and lobbying efforts on Libya's behalf are under way, funded in part by oil money and driven by a desire to cash in on future deals or resume business interrupted by sanctions. The Libyan leader himself has been taking steps and sending signals that suggest he may want to get out of the terrorism business, US officials say.

The Gadhafi makeover could be reaching a critical moment. Last week, a top US official and a Libyan intelligence operative met near London in another attempt to talk about the steps Libya must take before ties can be resumed. Later this month, a Scottish court is scheduled to hear the appeal of a Libyan intelligence agent found guilty in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103, over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, including 189 Americans. Libya has signaled to US officials directly and through intermediaries that when the legal process ends, the Gadhafi government may compensate the victims' families and take responsibility for the bombing, US officials say. Many US officials believe Col. Gadhafi himself was involved in the Pan Am bombing, the bloodiest terrorist attack on Americans before Sept 11.

In October, William Burns, the assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, who was at last week's meeting outside London, addressed a congressional committee about the purpose of US diplomacy toward Libya. He said it was meant "to make clear that there are no shortcuts around Libya ... accepting responsibility for what happened and also for paying appropriate compensation" for the Pan Am bombing.

There's a lot to be gained on both sides from rapprochement. Resolving the bombing could persuade Washington to lift the sanctions imposed in 1986. That would open the way for American companies to do business with the oil-rich country and for Libya to do some much-needed repair work on its economy. (...)

Still, the diplomatic dance between the US and Libya has produced a stark change in Libya's previously sharp anti-American rhetoric. It began in secret more than two years before Sept 11, in a series of meetings on the outskirts of London and in Geneva, Switzerland. Those meetings brought together senior officials of the Clinton administration, British officials and a top Libyan intelligence operative, Musa Kusa, according to US officials.

The idea to meet emerged in February 1998, when the US was embroiled in one of its periodic crises with Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair telephoned President Clinton to discuss growing complaints by moderate Arab allies that the West was dealing unfairly with Arab states. Mr Blair suggested it might be helpful to resolve the Libya issue in some way, a Clinton administration official recalls. (...)

President Clinton didn't move until after Col. Gadhafi agreed in April 1999 to hand over two Libyan suspects in the Pan Am 103 bombing. The White House then sent Martin Indyk, the assistant secretary of state for the Middle East at the time, and Bruce Riedel, the top White House Middle East staffer, to meet with Mr Kusa, who often handles delicate missions for Col Gadhafi. Mr Kusa has been associated for more than 20 years with Libyan intelligence, which has been connected to assassinations of Libyan dissidents abroad and the Pan Am bombing. (...)

In the highest-level contacts since President Reagan imposed sanctions in 1986, the US held four meetings in which Clinton administration officials laid out the steps Col Gadhafi must take to warm up relations with Washington. US officials hammered away at one theme: Libya must compensate the families of Pan Am 103 victims and take responsibility for the terrorist bombing to make normal ties possible. A United Nations resolution also calls for Libya to compensate the victims' families and take responsibility for the bombing.

Then, the day after the Sept 11 terrorist attacks, Col Gadhafi condemned the actions publicly as "horrifying, destructive." In October, in a previously planned secret meeting, Mr Kusa met in England with Mr Burns. Mr Kusa talked about what he called their common enemy, terrorism, according to a diplomat familiar with the session. Mr Kusa offered information on the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which is believed to be linked to al Qaeda and which also targets Col Gadhafi.

On Dec 5, the US included the group on an expanded list of terrorist organizations whose members will be automatically barred from the US or expelled if found here. At last week's meeting outside London, Mr Burns reiterated the American stance on Pan Am 103, according to a State Department official. (...)

Turning over the terrorism suspects also bolstered a public-relations and lobbying campaign conducted by Libya and its supporters, with quiet help from American companies. Four days after Col Gadhafi agreed to the handover, the US-Libya Dialogue Group held its first meeting, in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Mustafa Fitouri, a Libyan who is an information-technology professor at the Maastricht School of Management, helped arrange the session. He says the nonprofit group was set up "to show people in both countries, away from government, that people can communicate, work with each other." (...)

Mr Fitouri says some funds for the meeting were provided by US and Libyan companies, which he won't name. He adds that he doesn't know where all the money comes from because it's handled by a person, whom he also won't name, at a Libyan university. Until the Pan Am 103 case is resolved and sanctions are lifted, US companies don't want to be identified as being close to Tripoli.

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