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U.N. Debates Libya Sanctions

August 18, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


SPENCER MICHELS: For 15 years, the U.S. and most of its fellow Security Council members have insisted that Libya accept responsibility for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people including 189 Americans. Libya had long resisted taking the blame for bombing of the jumbo jet. It took U.S. And British investigators until 1991 to identify and charge two Libyan suspects in the case, but Libyan President Moammar Qaddafi refused to surrender them for trial.

Beginning in 1992, the U.N. Security Council imposed sweeping economic sanctions on oil-rich Libya to pressure Qaddafi to give up the two men. The U.S. Imposed separate sanctions on Libya in 1986 for being a state sponsor of terrorism before the Lockerbie disaster. Libyan oil sales to U.S. Companies were banned as were most business transactions and travel.

In 1999, in a deal brokered by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and then South African President Nelson Mandela, Libya turned over its intelligence agent Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and airline manager Lamen Khalifa Fahimah to a Scottish court. The U.N. sanctions were suspended that same year. After a nine-month trial, Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Co-defendant Fahimah was acquitted.

On Friday, Libya sent a three- page letter Friday to the Security Council – said it: “has facilitated the bringing to justice of the two suspects charged with the bombing of Pan Am 103 and accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials.” The letter also renounced terrorism, and Libya agreed to pay a $2.7 billion settlement to compensate the victims’ families.

Before the letter arrived, Secretary of State Colin Powell issued a statement saying the “U.S. will not oppose the lifting of U.N. sanctions that were suspended in 1999.” But he added that U.S. bilateral actions on Libya will remain in place.

Under the terms of the compensation agreement, the relatives of the Lockerbie victims could receive up to $10 million per victim, but Libya has agreed to pay in installments: 40 percent once the U.N. sanctions are lifted; an additional 40 percent once U.S. sanctions are removed; and the final 20 percent once Libya is taken off the State Department’s terrorist list.

MARGARET WARNER: The Security Council took no action this afternoon on the draft resolution introduced by Britain earlier today to lift U.N. sanctions against Libya.

For more on these developments, we turn to David Mack, who was a State Department political officer in Libya when Qaddafi came to power in 1969. He’s now vice president of the Middle East Institute in Washington. Mansour el-Kikhia, an associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Born in Libya, he’s now an American citizen.

Glenn Johnson, chairman of the group “Victims of Pan Am 103″, which represents about 160 families. His 21-year-old daughter Beth Ann was killed in the bombing. And Stephanie Bernstein, a member of a smaller group called Justice for Pam Am 103, she’s been lobbying Congress to uphold sanctions against Libya. Her husband Michael was killed in the crash.

Welcome to you all.

David Mack, beginning with you, why do you think Libya, specifically Moammar Qaddafi finally sent this letter, finally accepted responsibility?

DAVID MACK: Margaret, I think what we have just seen is that Moammar Qaddafi has come to terms with reality and the changes of the world. He has done so grudgingly. He has done so many, many years too late. But he does realize that the rest of the world is moving ahead and Libya is falling farther and farther behind. It’s a backwater in the world. It needs to be reintegrated into the international community in order to satisfy the basic needs of Libyans.

MARGARET WARNER: Professor el-Kikhia, what would you add to that? Do you agree that essentially Qaddafi has finally looked at the economic reality of this country and realized he had to do this?

MANSOUR EL-KIKHIA: To some extent, David is quite right that Libya has really become… has become a desperate, desperate situation. The country is falling back, the infrastructure is getting to be worse every day, dilapidated more and more. Libyans are really grumbling, and Qaddafi needs to change the system, but I disagree with David on the matter that he’s convinced of this. I think ultimately, you are what you are, and he needs to change internally as well as externally.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me just ask another question, Mr. Mack, about the U.N. sanctions. If the U.N. already suspended them four years ago, first of all, what difference has that made for Libya economically? Have other countries and foreign companies gone in there?

DAVID MACK: Well, yes, they have. Other countries have essentially treated the suspension of sanctions as a green light to move in. In many respects, they’ve normalized commercial relations. The United Kingdom, our closest partner in this matter, has resumed direct air flights from London to Tripoli and re- established its embassy with an ambassador. I’m afraid that it doesn’t make a lot of difference for most of the trade with Libya. It may encourage some private companies that were holding back to invest in Libya now that they know that the sanctions are finished.

MARGARET WARNER: Professor, add to that. Why do you think it’s so important to Libya to have them lifted permanently?

MANSOUR EL-KIKHIA: Well, as long as they’re not lifted permanently, they can always be reimposed again. But if they are lifted permanently through another resolution from the United Nations, there you have the French, the Chinese, the Russians who might oppose that. So you would like to see those moved permanently. And ultimately from an American perspective, it makes a great deal of sense to go back to Libya. Libya is in need of a tremendous amount of help, but it seems to me that America has to look seriously what it… what Libya must do in order for the U.S. to re-establish formal relations.

MARGARET WARNER: So Professor just to be clear here, the lifting of the U.N. sanctions if this vote does occur this week, will not affect the American companies at all?

MANSOUR EL-KIKHIA: You’re quite right, quite right. The American sanctions were really put on Libya in 1981 with President Reagan. And then they were reinforced in 1986. There were some loopholes which were closed in 1986.

Now the issue here is really very clear that Qaddafi can do without U.S. corporations entering Libya only to a certain extent. But the bigger problem that he faces is that he cannot get some machines and some equipment that has American components in them because Americans can still prevent companies from selling those machines.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me bring a couple of the family members in here. Glenn Johnson, is this the kind of acceptance of responsibility you were looking for, the kind of compensation, is this deal acceptable to you?

GLENN JOHNSON: Well, actually, we would have liked to have seen a much stronger admission of guilt, but we are reconciled to the fact that we had to accept what the United Nations had required of Qaddafi. We would like to continue to see them improve the relations and perhaps reconcile with the U.S. Government, but at this point I don’t see that happening.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you feel about it, Miss Bernstein?

STEPHANIE BERNSTEIN: Well, I think that the language in the U.N. Sanctions is what was reflected in the Libyan statement, and I think there is an overlooked passage in that statement which is very important which requires the Libyans to cooperate in the criminal investigation. And we were assured on Friday by Secretary Powell that this is an open criminal investigation, and that additional indictments could be brought, and that’s what’s really important to me.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Johnson, you’ve met, I know, with Secretary Powell. First of all, what is your reading of the U.S. Intentions here in terms of U.S. Sanctions? And do you think the U.S. Should lift the sanctions against Libya, do you think Libya has earned it at this point?

GLENN JOHNSON: As far as the United States sanctions go, no, the Libyans have an awful long way to go in order to meet the requirements that would allow us to do that. I don’t believe that our U.S. Government would be able to do that any time in the near future, but they definitely assure us they will be looking into the matter and they will be working for it. It is really up to the Libyans now to make the decision to meet the requirements so that they can be accepted.

MARGARET WARNER: What’s your reading of the administration?

STEPHANIE BERNSTEIN: I think that the administration is saying quite firmly that they have no intention of lifting the U.S. bilateral sanctions and that the Libyans will remain on the list of state sponsors, and I think the reason that the Libyans wanted this settlement structured the way it was is that they were hoping to turn the families into lobbyists.

MARGARET WARNER: Because you all don’t get most of the money until the U.S. drops the sanctions?

STEPHANIE BERNSTEIN: That’s correct, but I think they’ve underestimated the families, because we’ve worked very long and very hard to get to even this point of an acceptance of responsibility in a very broad way, and we’re certainly not going to give up now, and we won’t be bought.

MARGARET WARNER: So what more do you want to see from Libya? Does it concern the bombing or does it concern other issues?

STEPHANIE BERNSTEIN: Of course, I’m most familiar with the issues in regard to the bombing. It’s clear that Megrafi did not get up in the morning and decide he was going to put a bomb on the plane, so there are officials higher up in the chain of command in Libya, and I would like to see indictments brought when there is evidence and to take the investigation, which again we’ve been assured is an open investigation as far as it will go because the precedent that someone can acknowledge in a very broad way some kind of responsibility and pay money is not a precedent I think we should be adhering to in the war on terrorism.

MARGARET WARNER: David Mack, what’s your view here about whether Libya has earned the right to have U.S. sanctions lifted, whether the U.S. should do that?

DAVID MACK: I don’t favor an immediate lifting of U.S. sanctions or of full normalization of relations. I think there is an opportunity here for the U.S. Government to very cautiously test Libyan intentions on a whole range of issues that are of interest to us, including any further investigations of the Lockerbie matter, but also including wider questions regarding the war on international terrorism where Libya could be helpful to us, to a certain extent has been helpful already, but we ought to move ahead with exploiting its interest in cooperation on that kind of issue.

MARGARET WARNER: Are you saying that Libya has… you believe Libya has changed its stripes to some degree, has cooperated since 9/11 with the U.S. on terror investigations and matters?

DAVID MACK: Well, certainly with, where there are instances of groups that are allied that are… have a common enmity toward the Libyan Government and the U.S. Government, I believe there has been a considerable amount of cooperation between Libya and the United States in terms of intelligence exchanges. I think that perhaps Libya knows still more that we could usefully find out, but more important than that, I think, is the message we send to other wavering states, states that have not cooperated as fully with United States as they might.

We’ve made it pretty clear what the consequences are of standing against the United States in the war on terrorism. We made that clear in Kabul, we made that clear in Baghdad. What we haven’t really made clear is how does a former state supporter of terrorism stand with the United States and with the rest of the international community in dealing with that common scourge.

Until we can make that clear and have this kind of pro-active cooperation from a very, very diverse group of governments around the world, many of which are not our traditional friends and allies, until we accomplish that, we will not have made the kind of success that should make Americans feel safe in the future from international terrorism.

MARGARET WARNER: Professor, what’s our assessment on that issue about whether Libya can now become some sort of a partner, and Mr. Mack didn’t use that word, but in the war on terror and that it is in U.S. interests actually to reestablish over time a relationship with Libya.

MANSOUR EL-KIKHIA: Unfortunately I don’t agree with David on this issue. I agree with Mr. Johnson and Ms. Bernstein that I don’t think that the leopard can change its spots so fast. And I’m really very happy to see that they want to hold those responsible, responsible. My major concern over here which is a regime that has ultimately done more to hurt American interests in the world, has killed more Americans than even Saddam Hussein.

This regime has done awful things, I mean, for the last 30 years has done awful things, not only to Americans, not only to its neighbors, not only to people of the world, it has done it to Libyans as well. Libyans are victims of this regime. So far, the “I’ll pay the $2.7 billion and let bygones be bygones” -it makes absolutely no sense to me.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about one thing that Secretary Powell has mentioned. He has talked about what he says is Libya’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Do you share that?

MANSOUR EL-KIKHIA: Oh, yes, I do. I sincerely do. It will not do it overtly. It will do it covertly. Libya has a program of long- range missiles, and it’s going to need to renew its old Soviet weapons, which millions of dollars of those things, and as long as ultimately I think there’s a larger picture over there, and the larger picture that as long as one country in the region has weapons of mass destruction, necessarily some other country will try to get it and Libya perhaps will be the one to do it. But I don’t think that turns over the leaf that easily.

People that have committed these atrocities are still in power. The system that is in Libya continues to be in power. So for Qaddafi to come and say, “Well, I’m turning over a new leaf, we’re going to start something new,” well, okay, what about the tool that you have in the country that had been doing these awful things, why are they still in power? First of all, it seems to me, changes have to take place at home, and then we have to talk to him about changing his attitude in the…

I’m very happy to see the families saying, “We are not going to be blackmailed,” because ultimately even the offer itself is a blackmail. He’s telling them, “You have to lobby the U.S. Government, you have to do all of this for me to get the sanctions lifted, and I’m going to give you money for that.”

MARGARET WARNER: And I’m afraid, Professor, that has to be the last word. Thank you all four very much.