Friday, 22 March 2019

Thatcher warned US of reprisals years before Lockerbie bombing

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Times. It reads as follows:]

Margaret Thatcher privately begged President Reagan two years before the Lockerbie bombing not to attack Libya, warning it would unleash a bloody “cycle of revenge and counter-revenge”.

In 1986 Britain took the controversial decision to allow the US to use RAF bases to launch a raid on Colonel Gaddafi’s regime. However, secret documents newly released and placed in the National Archives in Kew, show the prime minister was deeply troubled by the plan and outlined her concerns in a series of frank “Dear Ron” letters.

Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in 1988 and Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan national, was convicted for the atrocity in 2001.

It was confirmed yesterday that prosecutors from Scotland had interviewed five retired Stasi agents in Germany over their possible involvement in the bombing, which killed 270 people, including 190 US and 43 UK citizens. Investigators do not believe al-Megrahi acted alone, while campaigners insist he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. According to reports in Germany, the ex-agents were in their 70s and 80s, and were interviewed over the past nine months.

Days before ordering airstrikes against Libya, which led to the deaths of more than 70 people in April 1986, the US president requested assistance from his ally. He confirmed it was a response to an attack on a nightclub used by US servicemen, writing: “Because the evidence we have on direct Libyan involvement in the Berlin bombing is so convincing, and our information on their future plans is so threatening, I have reluctantly taken the decision to use US forces to exact a response.”

Thatcher responded: “Dear Ron . . . as you know my instinct is always to stand beside the United States, but what you say in your message causes me very considerable anxiety. My worry is that this risks getting us into a cycle of revenge and counter-revenge in which many more innocent lives will be lost.

“Given all we know of Gaddafi’s nature, a military attack on Libya seems all too likely to lead him to step up terrorist attacks against civilian targets, resulting in the death of more innocent victims — some of them yours and some of them mine.” Referring to the conflict in Northern Ireland, she added: “I have to live with the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic across which terrorists come daily. We have lost 2,500 of our people in the last ten years, but we have never crossed that border to exact revenge.”

Reagan appealed to her sense of loyalty, writing: “You should not underestimate the profound effect on the American people if our actions to put a halt to these crimes continue to receive only lukewarm support, or no support at all, from our closest allies whom we have committed ourselves to defend.”

She responded: “You can count on our unqualified support for action directed against specific Libyan targets demonstrably involved in the conduct and support of terrorist activities.”

US F-111 jets launched raids on Tripoli and Benghazi from RAF bases in Suffolk and Oxfordshire. The actions caused an international outcry.

[RB: If Libya was responsible for Lockerbie, President Reagan's 1986 attack on Tripoli and Benghazi is normally regarded as supplying the motivation. The competing view, of course, is that Pan Am 103 was destroyed by the PFLP-GC at the instigation of Iran in revenge for the shooting down of Iran Air flight 655 by the USS Vincennes on 3 July 1988.]

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