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US Decision on Libyan Sanctions Receives Mixed Reaction - 2004-02-26


There's been mixed reaction to the decision by the White House to lift some of the long-standing sanctions against Libya. While American oil companies welcome potential business opportunities, some of the relatives of those killed in a 1988 terrorist attack blamed on the Libyan government are not so happy.

Cara Weipz lost her brother when 270 people were killed in the Libyan bombing of PanAm flight 103 over Scotland more than 15 years ago. She's not yet convinced the Libyan government is now out of the terrorism business. "I have a lot of skepticism now because you know they may have changed their spots but they still have spots," he said.

For Susan Cohen, who lost her daughter on the same flight, the decision was a deep disappointment. "The administration for the sake of oil is all too willing to forgive Muammar Gadhafi," she said. "It's a little bit like saying Hitler doesn't have a Holocaust any more so let's make friends. There are some crimes beyond any redemption."

American oil companies, whose work in Libya had been suspended, will now be able to re-negotiate lucrative oil contracts, a market that under sanctions, had been tapped largely to the Europeans. "This is really the moment the companies have really been waiting for all these years," he said.

"It's a prize really, a prize that American companies have been frustrated at seeing Europeans getting instead of them," said Gerald Butt, who is with the Middle East Economic Survey in Cyprus.

"What it means is U.S. oil executives can travel to Libya and negotiate deals that they can have in place when sanctions are lifted," said Karen Matusic, a senior editor at the Houston-based Oil Daily. "As you know, the U.S. still has sanctions on Libya so no one can really do business there. But I think a lot of U.S. oil companies will be very happy with this news."

"And so will OPEC member Libya," she said. "They've got a huge amount of reserves. I think they've got at least 36 billion barrels of proven oil reserves which when you look at world prices now is worth about a trillion dollars. And it's just one less country from OPEC that is taken off the 'no touch' list for the U.S. They couldn't do any business in Iran and up until the war, they couldn't do any business in Iraq."

Right now, Italy remains the biggest foreign investor in Libya. Before American business can return, Tripoli will also have to end its nuclear weapons program, something the Bush administration is demanding before remaining U.S. sanctions are lifted.

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