The Bush administration said Monday it is renewing the long-standing ban on visits to Libya by U.S. citizens for another year. However, in a gesture reflecting an improving climate in contacts between the two countries, the State Department says the ban will be reviewed every three months.
The ban on the use of U.S. passports for travel to Libya, in effect since aircraft of the two countries clashed over the Mediterranean in 1981, has been routinely extended each year since then.
But the Bush administration is now making the restriction subject to review every three months in recognition of Libya's decision in August to take responsibility for, and compensate the families of victims of, the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. officials remain concerned about the safety of American visitors to Libya, especially in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.
However, he said Libya's action on the Pan Am issue could herald a broader improvement in the security situation.
"Libya's fulfillment of its U.N, requirements for Pan Am 103 was a change in the status quo, and may be a potentially-positive indicator of an improved security situation for American citizens who might wish to travel to Libya," he said. "So, in that, we're closely monitoring developments in Libya, and have decided that reviewing the restriction every three months allows us to take into account whatever developments there might be."
After Libya agreed in August to pay up to $2.7 billion in compensation to the Pan Am 103 families, the Security Council formally ended U.N. economic and aviation sanctions against the Muammar Gadhafi government.
Separate U.S. sanctions against Libya, including a ban on oil dealings with that country, were not affected, and administration officials said they would remain in place until Libya improves human rights conditions, ends its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and halts what is seen as meddling in various African conflicts.
Diplomats here say the decision to subject the travel ban to quarterly review was intended as a signal to Libya that the United States is ready to respond, if that government addresses U.S. concerns.
The revised policy came in a notice by Secretary of State Colin Powell Monday, posted in the U.S. government's official journal, the Federal Register.