A senior State Department official on Monday criticized, as "awful," a reported plan by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to pitch a tent in a New York City suburb next month when he is due to attend the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. The Obama administration is already upset over the warm welcome the Libyan government gave last week to the man convicted of the 1988 Pan Am airliner bombing over Scotland.
As host country of the United Nations, the United States is obligated by treaty to allow Mr. Gadhafi and other world leaders to attend U.N. activities.
But officials here are making no secret of their unease about his reported plan to pitch his trademark Bedouin tent at the New Jersey residence of Libya's U.N. mission chief during his stay.
The Libyan leader greets visiting foreign dignitaries in a tent at home. And in recent years, he has stayed in a tent while attending some international meetings.
A report in Newsweek magazine this week says Mr. Gadhafi decided to put up the tent at the Libyan residence in Englewood, New Jersey after having been denied permission to pitch the elaborate tent in New York's Central Park.
The plan has stirred opposition in Englewood, which has a large Jewish population and which is near the homes of some family members of Americans killed in the 1988 airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, for which Libya accepted responsibility and paid compensation.
A senior official who spoke to reporters here called the idea to put the tent in Englewood "awful," but said the State Department was still discussing its formal position on the matter.
The same official termed as "disgusting" the hero's welcome the Gadhafi government gave to convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was released from prison by Scottish authorities on Thursday because he suffers from terminal cancer.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said Libya's treatment of Megrahi will affect the U.S.-Libyan relationship.
"The celebration of his return was extremely disturbing, and we have made it quite clear to the Libyan government - both publicly and privately - that we're going to be watching very closely how they receive this man," said Ian Kelly. "And if they continued to lionize him in a public fashion, that these kinds of public demonstrations can only have a profoundly negative effect on our relationship."
Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, the son of the Libyan leader, was among a jubilant crowd that welcomed Megrahi at the Tripoli airport on Thursday. The Libyan leader himself visited Megrahi at his home on Saturday.
President Barack Obama called last week for Megrahi to be put under house arrest. The senior official who spoke here noted that the convicted terrorist has not left his home since arriving there, and credited Libyan authorities with acting to limit the size of the airport crowd.
Spokesman Kelly said the United States disagreed "passionately" with the decision of Scottish authorities to release Megrahi on health reasons.
But he said it will not damage the traditional warm relationship between the United States and Britain and that U.S. officials accept at face value British denials that trade considerations affected the Scottish decision.