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US Concerned Over Possible French Veto of Libya Sanctions Deal - 2003-09-09


The United States is expressing apprehension that France might veto a U.N. Security Council resolution lifting sanctions against Libya, which would scuttle a painstakingly negotiated deal for compensation to families of the 1988 Pan Am jetliner bombing.

Officials here are making no secret of their concern that a French veto might torpedo a Pan Am Flight 103 compensation deal that was 12 years in the making.

Libya last month agreed to pay as much as $2.7 billion to the families of the 270 people killed when the Pan Am flight was brought down over Lockerbie, Scotland by a bomb said to have been planted by Libyan agents.

A permanent end to the UN economic and aviation sanctions against Libya is part of the deal. But France has renewed a threat to veto the enabling resolution in the Security Council, over what it considers unfair compensation by Libya for a similar bombing of a French UTA jetliner over Niger in 1989.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted that France had freely negotiated the smaller settlement package with Libya in 1999, at which time it endorsed the lifting of the U.N. sanctions.

He said action in the Security Council was delayed in recent weeks to give France time to seek a more generous UTA deal, and said the United States would find it "inexplicable and surprising" if the French vetoed a resolution that provided compensation for victims of another tragedy.

"The French were looking for some time to try to work things. And we have every sympathy with the families of other tragedies, whether it's UTA or Labelle disco [a 1985 bombing in Berlin]. But the fact is the French wanted some time and got some time. And here we are now facing a veto threat, which we find rather astonishing," he said.

A senior diplomat here said the issue figured in a telephone talk Monday between Secretary of State Colin Powell and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.

He said the deal announced August 15, under which Libya accepted responsibility for the Pan Am bombing, was the product of 12 years of "solid" U.S. pressure on the Muammar Gadhafi government.

He said it is "interesting" that others now wish they had been similarly resolute with the Libyans. But he said it should not be at the expense of the Pan Am 103 families.

The first of three installments of Libyan compensation is due to be paid to the families when the Security Council permanently lifts the U.N. sanctions, which were suspended after Libya turned over two suspects in the bomb attack for trial in 1999.