Lockerbie Deal May Prompt US-France Showdown At UN

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

London ( - The United States and Great Britain could be heading for another U.N. Security Council showdown with France, this time over a deal to end economic sanctions imposed against Libya after the Lockerbie bombing.

Diplomats have reached an agreement that would see Libya pay $2.7 billion and accept responsibility for the bombing, which killed 270 when Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York plunged out of the sky and into a small town in Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988.

The U.N. sanctions, still technically in force, were suspended after Libya handed over two security agents suspected of the bombing in 1999.

In January 2001, Abdel Basset al Megrahi was convicted of murder by a special Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands. He was sentenced to life in prison and his appeals were exhausted last year. Megrahi, who is serving his sentence in a Scottish prison, will be eligible for parole in 20 years.

A second Libyan man, Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima, was acquitted during the initial trial.

Libya officially accepted responsibility for the bombing in a letter to the Security Council on Friday.

After the money is deposited in an escrow account for the families of the dead, Britain has promised to table a Security Council resolution to permanently remove the sanctions against Muammar Gaddafi's government.

In London, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said the resolution would be submitted to the Security Council on Monday, "with a view to seeing it adopted by the end of the week."

But U.S. officials quoted in several news reports over the weekend said that France has threatened to keep sanctions on Libya until Gaddafi offers more money for a 1989 bombing of a French UTA airliner over the African country of Niger.

That bombing killed 170 and was also blamed on Libya, which paid about $36 million in compensation in 1999.

On Monday, French officials declined to say whether France would use its Security Council veto.

In Paris, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said France was "delighted by the progress achieved in negotiations aimed at compensating the families of the Lockerbie victims."

"As for the families of the UTA victims, in the interest of fairness, it would like to see supplemental compensation negotiated very rapidly," the spokesman said in a statement.

"Considerable progress has been made in these negotiations, which we hope will swiftly lead to an agreement on a compensation package that will be fair in relation to the one to be received by the beneficiaries of the Lockerbie attack victims," he said.

"It is clear, for France, that such a solution is an essential prerequisite for the definitive lifting of sanctions against Libya, which France wholeheartedly supports," he said.

The British government has strongly backed the immediate removal of the sanctions.

"Libya has today accepted responsibility for that outrage. At the same time it has agreed to pay substantial compensation to the relatives of those who were murdered. It has renounced terrorism and has agreed to cooperate with any further Lockerbie investigation," Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane said Friday.

The British Foreign Office declined to comment on the French position Monday.

The agreement will see $10 million paid out in stages to the families of each Lockerbie victim. The first $4 million per family will be paid after the U.N. sanctions are lifted, with a further $4 million doled out after separate U.S. sanctions on Libya are dropped.

The remaining money will be paid when Libya is removed from the U.S. list of terror-sponsoring states.

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