The State Department confirms that the United States and Libya are
close to finishing a comprehensive deal to settle outstanding claims
from Libyan-backed acts of terrorism in the 1980s. The U.S. Senate
Thursday approved a key component of the deal. VOA's David Gollust
reports from the State Department.
Relations between the two
countries have improved markedly since 2003 when Libya renounced
terrorism and agreed to give up its weapons of mass destruction
But political and economic relations have not been
completely normalized due to lingering disputes over compensating
American and other victims of 1980's acts of terrorism for which Libya
has taken responsibility.
Now, in an apparent breakthrough, the
Bush administration and the government of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi
have worked out a tentative deal that would clear away remaining
Officials say that under terms of the accord, Libya
would set aside about $1 billion to pay remaining claims from
the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, a 1986
bombing of a West Berlin disco frequented by U.S. servicemen, and other
attacks tied to Libya.
A critical part of the deal is approval
by the Congress of a measure giving Libya immunity from a previous U.S.
law that gave victims enhanced powers to seize assets of countries
involved in terrorism.
The U.S. Senate quietly approved such
legislation Thursday morning and State Department officials are hopeful
the House will quickly follow suit.
At a Senate committee
hearing Thursday, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte welcomed
the unanimous Senate vote. "I wanted to take the opportunity to thank
you all for your support for the legislation that just passed the
Senate to help facilitate a comprehensive claims-settlement agreement
with Libya. This initiative provides the best opportunity for American
claimants to receive fair compensation in an expedited manner, and
would help turn the page on the last vestige of our contentious past
with Libya so that we can focus on the future of our relationship," he
Libya agreed in 2003 to pay out $10 million each to the
families of all 270 people killed in the Lockerbie attack, in a phased
payout linked to normalization steps.
But the process was bogged
down by legal disputes and more than $500 million is yet to be paid in
the Pan Am case, as is nearly $300 million in the Berlin disco attack.
legislation pending in Congress would empower the Secretary of State to
set up an entity that would distribute the additional funds from Libya.
Most, but not all, victims' families support the pending deal.
for some plaintiffs in the Berlin case say they could be left out of
the arrangement, and contend that the immunity legislation for Libya
sets a bad precedent for future dealings with other countries listed as
The lingering legal cases are believed to
have curtailed potential U.S.-Libyan trade, with Libyan firms in
particular reluctant to invest in the United States out of concern
their assets could be seized.
The United States restored
diplomatic relations with Libya in 2006. But members of Congress
concerned about compensation issues have prevented a U.S. ambassador
from taking up residence in Tripoli, and have blocked funds to build a
Though Libya's foreign minister has visited
Washington, aides to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have said she
would not go to Libya without a compensation settlement.