The U.S. Senate has confirmed career diplomat Gene Cretz to be the first U.S Ambassador to Libya in 36 years. His nomination had been held up by Senate Democrats until Libya made good on its promise to fully compensate the families of victims of terrorist acts in the 1980s. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The Senate action late Thursday came after the Senate Democrat who had led the effort to block the nomination cleared the way for confirmation by noting that Libya last month paid $1.5 billion to relatives of victims of acts of terrorism for which Tripoli accepted responsibility.

"I lifted my hold. The process will work its way now," said Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat.

The confirmation of Gene Cretz, who becomes the first U.S. Ambassador to Libya since 1972, had been blocked from the time President Bush nominated him in July of last year. He has served in key diplomatic posts in Israel, Egypt and Syria.

His confirmation caps a warming of relations between Washington and Tripoli that began in 2003 when Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi renounced terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The process accelerated this year when U.S. and Libyan officials agreed on a comprehensive plan to compensate families of Americans killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland and the 1986 bombing of a Berlin discotheque that killed two U.S. servicemen.

Relatives of those who died in the Pan Am bombing joined Senator Lautenberg at a Capitol Hill news conference Thursday to mark the settlement of claims. 

"We are here today to say that a measure of justice has finally prevailed," he said.

Kara Weipz lost her brother in the tragedy. 

"We are free now to close this chapter in our nightmare," she said. "Does it change the majority of feelings of families towards Mr. Gadhafi? Absolutely, positively not. And do the families believe that he himself or those high-ranking officials in his regime were responsible for this? Absolutely. And that does not change just because this was completed."

The Pan Am bombing claimed the lives of 270 people.