[What follows is the text of a report by David Leppard that was published in The Sunday Times on this date in 2003:]
Ambassador William Burns, head of the US state department’s Middle East section, is expected to meet Libyan and British officials for talks in London this Tuesday. A formal announcement is expected soon afterwards.
Sources close to the talks disclosed yesterday that officials may be close to finalising a deal in which Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi finally admits responsibility for Lockerbie.
In exchange for a formal statement of admission, the United Nations Security Council is expected to permanently lift crippling sanctions against Tripoli.
Discussions have been going on for years about compensating relatives of the 270 people who died when Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Scotland in December 1988.
Libya has previously denied reports that it was prepared to pay £7m to each Lockerbie victim, provided sanctions were lifted. It is currently on the US state department’s list of countries that sponsor international terrorism.
This week’s London meeting will involve Burns, a US assistant secretary of state, and a senior Libyan official, probably Mohammed Abdul Quasim al-Zwai, Gadaffi’s ambassador in London. A senior Foreign Office official will also attend.
The security council has demanded that Libya pay “appropriate compensation” and accept general responsibility for the bombing. As well as renouncing terrorism, it must also undertake to comply with any future inquiry.
If those demands are fully met, UN sanctions — imposed in 1992 but suspended at the moment — will be scrapped.
America imposed its own separate sanctions after the Libyans bombed a disco used by American soldiers in Germany in 1986. Libya is desperate to get rid of the sanctions so it can sell oil.
Dan Cohen, who lost his daughter at Lockerbie, said he believed the wording of a statement admitting Libya’s responsibility had already been agreed.
At an international court in the Hague two years ago, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a senior Libyan intelligence official, was convicted of the bombing. He is now serving a life sentence at Barlinnie high security prison in Glasgow. [RB: The only evidence that Megrahi was an intelligence official came from the defector Abdul Majid Giaka whose evidence on every other issue was dismissed by the court as wholly lacking in credibility. The court gave no reasons for their acceptance of Giaka’s testimony on this single topic.]
Gadaffi has always denied responsibility for the attack. But evidence uncovered during the Scottish police investigation revealed that it had been sanctioned by the head of his own intelligence service. [RB: I have no idea what “evidence” this refers to. Certainly no such evidence was produced at the Zeist trial.]
The Libyans are said to have wanted revenge for the bombing of their country by American planes, in which Gadaffi’s six-year-old adopted daughter had been killed.
[RB: The Libyan letter acknowledging responsibility (which I played a part in drafting) can be read here.]