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Libya Reaffirms Responsibility for 1988 Pan Am Flight Bombing - 2004-02-26

Libya's foreign minister says a dispute with the United States over Tripoli's responsibility for the bombing of a U.S. airliner over Scotland in 1988 has now been cleared up.

The dispute over Libyan responsibility for the bombing of Pan American flight 103 arose again earlier this week, when Libyan Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem told British radio that his government paid compensation to the families of the 270 victims of the attack in an effort to improve relations with the West, not because Libya was responsible for the bombing.

That prompted the United States to demand a retraction of Mr. Ghanem's remarks and to delay the easing of travel restrictions, which had been expected earlier.

The Libyan government on Wednesday issued a statement reaffirming its responsibility for the actions of its officials, a reference to the fact that a Libyan intelligence officer was found guilty of the bombing by a Scottish court, and is now jailed in Scotland.

But Foreign Minister Abdul Rahman Shalgam has restated twice this week that, although Libya accepts responsibility for the acts of its officials, it does not accept that, as a sovereign state, it was guilty of the bombing. Mr. Shalgam says that is the Libyan position as outlined in a letter to the United Nations Security Council last August that led to the lifting of U.N. sanctions against Libya.

Still, the reaffirmation of its responsibility for the action of its nationals appears to have satisfied Washington. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that he is confident U.S. relations with Libya will quickly be restored, and the United States lifted the travel ban on Thursday, which had been in effect for 23 years.

For his part, Mr. Shalgam told reporters in Sirte, where he is attending an African Union foreign ministers' meeting, that the Lockerbie file is now closed.

"Everything is normalized now. Everything is OK," he said.

A top Libyan official says that when the controversy over Prime Minister Ghanem's remarks arose, Foreign Minister Shalgam immediately contacted British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to seek his advice on how Libya could resolve the spat with Washington quickly, so as to keep its opening to the West on track.

Libya scored points with the West two months ago when it pledged to abandon its program to develop weapons of mass destruction, and invited experts from the United States, Britain, and the International Atomic Energy Agency to dismantle its nuclear weapons facilities.

Libya sees the lifting of U.S. travel restrictions as a first step toward normalization of relations with Washington. The oil-rich country, which has been under U.S. sanctions since 1986, is eager for U.S. energy companies to return with advanced technology that will help Libya increase its oil production.