[Could the release of Terry Waite and Thomas Sutherland on this date in 1991 by Islamic Jihad have been part of a deal with Iran to switch the blame for the Lockerbie bombing from Iranian surrogates to Libya? This hypothesis is explored in the following excerpt from Dr Davina Miller’s important article Who Knows About This? Western Policy Towards Iran: The Lockerbie Case (citations omitted):]
A deal between the US and Iran that involved the issue of Pan Am 103 is not an unreasonable hypothesis, given previous US behaviour and British and French ‘deals’ with Iran for the release of hostages. For example, on 21 March 1991, the CIA criticized Britain for having deported Mehradad Kokabi, an Iranian charged in connection with a bomb attack. While this would, “help Rafsanjani by using an issue used by hardliners to argue against the release of hostages”, it would also reinforce the view in Tehran that, “Washington, like London, will strike a deal favourable to Iran”. Equally, the CIA complained that the French government had earlier done a deal with Iran for the release of nine hostages between 1986 and 1988.
Even as the US was contemplating in early 1989 that Iran had a hand in the bombing of Pan Am 103, it was still signalling the hope for a deal with Iran on the hostage issue as expressed in President Bush’s inaugural address. As he said, “There are today Americans who are held against their will in foreign lands and Americans who are unaccounted for. Assistance can be shown here and will be long remembered”. (...)
US/UK indictments of the two Libyan suspects were announced on 13 November 1991. On 16 November 1991, Iranian radio declared that the indictments of Fhima and al-Megrahi represented, “the start of a new psychological and propaganda war by Washington against Libya”. A DIA report on 23 November, from intelligence acquired from Fort Meade, (that is, from Foreign Signals Intelligence) noted, however, that the “Iranian President voiced his pleasure in seeing the recent press attribute the blame to Libya for the 1988 Pan Am flight 103 bombing”.
On 18 November 1991, the American, Thomas Sutherland, and the Briton, Terry Waite, were freed by Islamic Jihad in Beirut. Later that month, there was a comprehensive exchange of hostages and human remains on one side and, on the other, prisoners in Israeli jails. On 2 December, the US also paid compensation to Iran some $278,000,000 for weapons confiscated in 1979. On 10 December, a UN report found that Iraq’s invasion of Iran on 22 September 1980, and the occupation of Iranian land that followed, were unjustified and illegal.
While many elements comprised the hostages deal, it could be argued that Pan Am 103 was necessarily part of the comprehensive settlement that involved, inter alia, money, prisoners, and international judgments about the Iran-Iraq War. It was necessary because, as the CIA commented on 1 June 1989, the Iranians “believe that the presence of Western hostages in Lebanon will help deter retaliation” for the bombing of Flight 103. It follows that Iran could not feel safe from US retaliation for Pan Am 103 (whether the retaliation was justified or not) if the hostages were freed without some guarantee. Thus, the eventual indictment of a rival state, it could be argued, provided that guarantee and was thus the necessary condition for the deal that followed.
Even before the final settlement, it is possible to argue that the US and Iran reached a tentative agreement about Pan Am 103. If Mohtashemi were the architect, as US intelligence seemed firmly to believe, using the back channels already established through ‘Irangate’, and relying on the policy of searching for moderates with whom to do business, it is possible that the US sought the isolation of Mohtashemi in exchange for a policy of non-retaliation. (...)