Secretary of State Colin Powell Tuesday reaffirmed the Bush administration's readiness to consider lifting U-S sanctions against Libya once it carries out its pledge to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction programs. But he offered no timetable for completing the process.
Libya has made no secret of its interest in the early lifting of sanctions, and warned last week that if they are not removed by mid-May it could mean reduced compensation for families of those killed in the 1988 Panam 103 airliner attack that Libya admitted responsibility for last year.
However Secretary Powell says the process of reconsidering sanctions will not begin until Libya's holdings of weapons of mass destruction are verifiably destroyed under the agreement with Britain and the United States announced last month.
At a joint press appearance with Tunisian Foreign Minister Habib Ben Yahia, Mr. Powell said Libyan officials have been "very forthcoming" thus far in disclosing the country's weapons holdings.
He said the United States and Britain are in the process of forming teams that will verify the dismantling of the programs in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. He said when that occurs, the Bush administration will turn to the issue of sanctions. "When we get that under control, and have a good sense of all of that, then we'll start to examine the political and policy issues that relate to bringing Libya back into a different relationship with the United States and with the rest of the international community. We'll be looking at the sanctions, we'll be looking at other measures that we have taken against Libya over the years that should now be reviewed in light of that," he said.
Mr. Powell said as the process unfolds, the administration will always keep in mind the interests and views of the Pan Am 103 families.
Libya accepted responsibility for the airliner bombing last August and agreed to pay up to $2.7 billion in compensation to families of the 270 people killed in the attack.
But Libya's foreign minister noted last week that under terms of the deal, Libya can withhold 60 percent of the compensation package unless sanctions are lifted and the North African country removed from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism by May 12.
In a written statement to Congress Monday, President Bush extended sanctions against Libya because, he said, the crisis that led to their imposition in 1986 "had not been fully resolved."
But Mr. Bush said he welcomed Libya's December 19 commitment to give up weapons of mass destruction, and said as it follows through with its promises, the United States will take "reciprocal, tangible steps."
In his remarks with his Tunisian counterpart, Secretary Powell said the government in Tunis had played a significant role in convincing neighboring Libya to commit to disarmament.