Opening a Dialogue
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the Libya story. Gaby Rado of Independent Television news begins.
GABY RADO: It was during a demonstration against Colonel Qaddafi opposite the Libyan People’s Bureau that 25-year-old duty policewoman Yvonne Fletcher was shot dead, the automatic gunfire presumed to have come from inside the Bureau. What followed was an unprecedented state of armed emergency in Central London, and a ten-day-long siege in which the square was sealed off until the Bureau staff were allowed to leave. It assumed one of those allowed to go free was guilty of the shooting. Today’s breakthrough means the Libyans accept general responsibility for the outrage and will cooperate with the metropolitan police in finding the killer or killers.
ROBIN COOK: In that statement, Libya accepts general responsibility for the actions of those in the Libyan People’s Bureau at the time of the shooting. They express deep regret to the family of WPC Fletcher for what occurred, and offered to pay compensation now to the family.
GABY RADO: It’s only three months since the two Libyans accused of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing were finally extradited to the Netherlands. That was a key event in the rehabilitation of their country from pariah status. The two men will be tried in this Dutch court under Scottish law. If a suspect is now arrested for Yvonne Fletcher’s murder, similar complex arrangements may have to be made. For the time being, Libya is calling for U.N. sanctions, already suspended, to be lifted fully.
ABUZED OMAR DORDA, U.N. Ambassador, Libya: It should be lifted because Libya really met all its obligations towards the Security Council resolutions. So there’s no reason at all to delay the lifting.
JIM LEHRER: And to Elizabeth Farnsworth in San Francisco.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Today the U.N. Security Council began debate on permanently lifting U.N. sanctions against Libya. U.S. sanctions prohibiting most commerce with Libya remain in place. And for more on all this we turn to Dirk Vandewalle, Associate Professor at Dartmouth College, and the author of books and articles on Libya; and Stephen Fidler, U.S. Diplomatic Editor for the “Financial Times of London.” He reported for Reuters from the Middle East in the mid-1980′s. Stephen Fidler, is this a tit-for-tat deal, Libya turns over the two men indicted for the Lockerbie bombing and takes responsibility for killing the policewoman in London– in return gets diplomatic relations from Britain, or is there more to it?
STEPHEN FIDLER: I think it’s pretty much as meets the eye. I don’t — I think the U.K. and the U.S. have cooperated pretty closely on this, and I think this has been a long-standing issue between the two countries. The policewoman was shot in 1984, so it’s 15 years without diplomatic relations. In 1988 was the year of the Lockerbie bombing. So I think there’s been a desire for some time to get part of this out of the way. And I think the UK did this with the full knowledge of the United States.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what do you mean by that? I mean the State Department said today, State Department spokesman said the U.S. is not going to follow suit. What do you mean by the cooperation and that they agreed?
STEPHEN FIDLER: I think the — while the U.S. was definitely informed ahead of time that the UK was going to do this, I think the U.S. has a lot of issues of its own that are not yet resolved, and I think it’ll be some time before U.S. sanctions are lifted against Libya. But there — I think if you look at it from the Libyans’ point of view, the handing over the suspects for the Lockerbie bombing, they do get something out of that from the British in terms of restoring diplomatic relations, but they don’t get the large prize, which would be some improved relations with the U.S., and that’s dependent on their doing a lot more things.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Like what more things, Mr. Vandewalle, to get the U.S. restoration of diplomatic relations?
DIRK VANDEWALLE: Well, the one issue that the United States has been particularly insisting upon is that Libya compensate the victims of Pan Am 103. Now, that may happen pretty soon but it is not quite sure.
And what is happening here, in my estimation, is that Britain in many ways has jumped the gun, even though I agree with the previous speaker that there were some — there is some kind of cooperation between the two countries here. But it seems to me that the United States in many ways wants that compensation to take place once Libya publicly admits that it was involved in Pan Am 103 and at that point it will feel comfortable to let particularly its oil companies go back in. Now, I think there’s a particular dilemma here for the United States, and that is that Britain has already extended diplomatic recognition today. It means that a number of British companies will go back into Libya and that a number of American oil companies are sidelined.
The United States in a way will want to catch up, I would think, because we have an enormous amount of investment left in Libya. And my estimation is that, in contradiction to what your previous speaker said, that the United States will, as soon as it has kind of figured out where to go with all of this follow suit and also establish relations once a number of weeks a number of months have gone by. But the reestablishment of relations, to me, seem, if not imminent, at least in the foreseeable future.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So this is really a significant event, this restoration of relations by Britain, in your view, Mr. Vandewalle?
DIRK VANDEWALLE: It is a significant event, but it is most significant event for the Libyans because, for the first time, it now brings the Libyans back after an embargo that has cost them economically, as well as politically, very dearly, it now brings them back into the international community — it brings back to Libya knowledge for their oil industry.
It will bring in more capital, and Libya dearly needs that kind of capital at this particular point in time. Its oil industry is old-fashioned in many ways. It needs to be updated. Libya needs more investment, needs more technology, to be able to drill in less accessible places, to drill offshore, and a lot of that technology and finance will have to come from the West. And so for Libya, this is an absolutely crucial agreement. It’s an agreement, by the way, that they’ve been trying to accomplish for a number of years.
But in the last two or three months, Libya’s effort has really increased, has gained a momentum, and they’ve had a number of conferences, gas and oil conferences particularly, in Geneva a couple of months ago where they were already inviting British, American and other companies to, in a sense, tell these companies, “we are willing to make an agreement with the West. In return, once the sanctions are lifted, we would like you to come back to Libya and we will give you a fair share of the profits that you can make from what is essentially a very low-cost and sulphur-free oil with high value to be exported to Europe.”
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Fidler, Libya has been denied diplomatic relations because it was considered to be aiding terrorists or committing terrorist acts. Has that changed?
STEPHEN FIDLER: Well, I think there’s been a strong campaign on the part of the Libyans to suggest that it has. I think the evidence is that recently it hasn’t been involved in terrorist acts, as far as one can tell. But I think it’s — the U.S. has a number of things to think about. I think it’s — there are a number of sets of sanctions against Libya, one of which is an executive order, which can be rescinded by the President.
But there is also legislation, the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act in Congress, which needs to be overturned by Congress. So the administration really needs to have a deal here that it can sell to the families of the Pan Am airliner, and I think this is a much more sensitive issue politically here than it is in the UK So I think it’s not going to be an easy — I don’t see it as being such an easy process in moving towards fuller relations, although I accept that there will be pressure from the oil companies to do so.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Mr. Fidler, the families were not necessarily happy about this restoration of relations, were they?
STEPHEN FIDLER: No. I think that’s right. I saw one description of it as a betrayal by the British government.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Vandewalle, what about changes in Libya? What changes are compelling this from the Libyan point of view? Have there be changes in the way Libya relates with foreign groups?
DIRK VANDEWALLE: Elizabeth, in a number of instances, there have been significant changes in Libya that prompt the kind of developments that we’ve seen over the last four or five years. Libya is economically, if not in dire straits, at least needs a significant amount of money. And there is very little industry. A lot of the oil money has been invested in infrastructure, there is more money needed as I said for expanding, searching for oil, both in the desert and offshore. But also, there is a political element to this, and that is that, in many ways, the experiments of Colonel Qaddafi have backfired.
And the kind of support that he could gather traditionally by being oppositionist to the West, by portraying the West as the great Satan, so to speak, no longer really works. And it no longer really works because Libya has changed substantially since 1969 when Colonel Qaddafi took over. And there has been a lot of social stratification, there’s been a lot of education, there’s been a number of young bureaucrats and technocrats that no longer really share the kind of images, the kind of ideas that Colonel Qaddafi had.
I was at a conference a few weeks ago in Holland where I met people that I had met ten years before during the kind of activist phase that Libya went through, and they were both old, hard-liners of the regime and younger people, and what struck me above all, even though there was still the kind of defense to the older people, what struck me above all was how pragmatic in many ways Libyans, particularly younger Libyans with access to the Internet, with access to outside sources of information have really become. They want this boycott ended. They want the embargo completely abolished. They want to move on with their lives.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Sorry to interrupt. That’s all the time we have. Thanks, Mr. Vandewalle and Mr. Fidler, thank you.