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State Department Briefs Families of Lockerbie Victims - 2003-08-15


Senior Bush administration officials say there will be no early end to U.S. economic sanctions against Libya, even though the Muammar Gadhafi government will shortly fulfill terms for the permanent lifting of U.N. sanctions stemming from the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. The families of the 270 victims of the 1988 airliner attack were briefed on the status of the case Friday in Washington.

Secretary of State Colin Powell joined in the briefing for the families on fast-moving developments in the Pan Am 103 case that are likely to lead to a Security Council vote ending U.N. sanctions next week.

The U.N. sanctions were suspended in 1999 after Libya turned over two of its intelligence agents who were charged in the attack, one of whom was later convicted by a special court in the Netherlands and sentenced to life in prison.

Libya is now fulfilling terms for the permanent lifting of the sanctions, including acceptance of responsibility for the attack, a renunciation of terrorism, and creation of a $2.7 billion fund for the compensation of the victims families.

The Security Council vote, expected by mid-week, would trigger payment to the families of the first $4 million of what could eventually be $10 million in Libyan compensation for each person killed.

However family spokesman Dan Cohen, whose 20-year-old college student daughter was killed in the terror attack, told reporters here after the briefing that the money will not bring closure for the still-grieving families.

"I hope you will not in reporting this say money, money, money. It's not money, money, money," he said. "Everyone of us, everyone of us, would have foregone every cent of that in a heartbeat, if this had never happened. And it's unfortunate the way the world is structured that this is one of the only ways that these terrible crimes are dealt with."

Under terms of the deal worked out between the Libyan government and lawyers for the families, the remaining six million dollars for each victim would not be paid unless bilateral U.S. sanctions against Libya are also lifted and that country is removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Mr. Cohen said he personally opposed the lifting of the U.S. sanctions, which among other things bar American investment in Libya's oil industry, as long as Mr. Gadhafi remains the head of what he termed a "criminal" regime.

However the chairman of the families' organization, Glenn Johnson, who also lost a daughter in the bombing, took a less severe view, saying the Bush administration should examine each sanction on a case-by-case basis.

"At this point, providing the U.N. sanctions are lifted, our government should take a look at each and every U.S. sanction that's involved, and see if the [Libyan] government's met it," he said. "If the Libyan government has completed it, we would like to see them lifted. If they have not, as a group, we feel they should not be lifted."

A senior administration official who briefed reporters said Libya has made "significant progress" in getting out of the terrorism business since the mid-1990s.

However he said it "does not deserve a clean bill of health" and that the United States continues to have serious concerns about Libya's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, its poor human rights record, and meddling in the affairs of other countries, especially African states including Chad, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The official said the United States might abstain in the U.N. sanctions vote to underline its ongoing concerns.

He also said the Bush administration has strongly urged France not to veto the lifting of sanctions, which it has threatened to do in an effort to force Libya to increase compensation for victims of a French UTA jetliner downed over Niger in 1989.