Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Reaction to Libyan PM's denial of Lockerbie guilt

[What follows is an article published in The New York Times on this date in 2004, the day after Libyan Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem had denied his country’s involvement in the Lockerbie bombing:]

Libya's prime minister, Shukri Ghanem, brought the thaw in relations between his nation and the West to a sudden standstill on Tuesday by suggesting that Libya was not responsible for the Lockerbie bombing and other major acts of terrorism, even though it has agreed to pay compensation to victims' families and accepted responsibility in writing.

The Bush administration reacted strongly, demanding a retraction. And some of Mr Ghanem's close associates in government told Western colleagues, one of them said, that the prime minister might be forced to resign over the remarks, which cut against the grain of the country's rapprochement with the West.

In an interview with BBC radio on Tuesday morning, Mr Ghanem, speaking from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, said that ''we thought it was easier for us to buy peace'' with the United States and Britain, ''and this is why we agreed on compensation'' in the Lockerbie case.

Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 270 people, mostly Americans.

Mr Ghanem also said he believed that Libya was not responsible for the death of a British policewoman, Yvonne Fletcher, killed in front of the Libyan Embassy in 1984. Libya formally accepted ''general responsibility'' for Ms Fletcher's death in 1999 as part of the agreement to re-establish relations with Britain.

The Bush administration had been expected to lift the longstanding ban on travel to Libya this week, but White House and State Department officials pointedly put off any announcement on Tuesday. Instead, they demanded that the Libyan government disassociate itself from the prime minister's statements.

''We would expect a retraction from the Libyan government,'' said Richard A Boucher, the State Department spokesman.

''We, and the United Nations, demanded that Libya formally accept responsibility for the actions of its officials in the Pan Am 103 bombing,'' he said. ''Libya did so in a letter that had no ambiguity to the United Nations Security Council on Aug 15, 2003.''

Mr. Ghanem's remarks represented the first serious setback since the Libyan leader, Col Muammar el-Qaddafi, declared on Dec 19 that Libya would abandon all attempts to develop unconventional weapons and was seeking a new relationship with the West. He was congratulated by President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who is expected to meet with Colonel Qaddafi in the spring.

American and British intelligence officials have worked intensively since January to dismantle, evacuate or prepare for destruction Libya's illicit weapons technologies, and American and British officials have praised Libya's cooperation, as Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, did again on Tuesday. American officials have also taken the first steps toward re-establishing diplomatic representation in Tripoli.

Mr Straw seemed at pains to place greater emphasis on the written statements the Libyan government has rendered.

''We take account of the reported remarks of the Libyan prime minister, but we take even greater account of the formal communications from the government of Libya,'' he said.

But the Bush administration took a markedly stronger line. Mr Boucher said the prime minister's statements, if not withdrawn, would ''certainly'' be ''a factor that we would need to take into account as we decide how to proceed'' with Libya. He indicated that other steps in improving relations, like the lifting of sanctions, could not proceed without clarification.

''We need to understand that the Libyan position is the one they stated authoritatively to the United Nations in writing, for all the other steps to continue apace,'' he said.

One close associate of Mr Ghanem in Europe said the prime minister was ''inexperienced'' in diplomacy and somewhat ''argumentative'' in the position Colonel Qaddafi created for him last June to encourage an economic reform program.

Mr Ghanem is considered to be one of the most progressive members of Colonel Qaddafi's government, and some experts suggested that those who oppose his reforms may be among the first to call for his resignation on Wednesday.

One of his Western friends said Mr Ghanem, an economist who studied in the United States and worked in Vienna for OPEC, had privately said that if he believed that his government was responsible for blowing up Flight 103, then he could not serve it.


  1. Well, I think we all know by now how much faith to put on Jack Straw's integrity.

  2. Off topic, but I see Joe Beltrami has died. A sad loss. I always thought Megrahi deserved someone of his skill and stature to represent him at Camp Zeist. I hadn't realised his age though, I imagine he was already retired in 2000. Is there no worthy successor in the ranks of today's defence lawyers?