Wednesday’s signal that Libya is willing to pay compensation to the families of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing if U.N. and U.S. sanctions against Tripoli are lifted sent most of the British papers into a frenzy of indignation. Although the Libyan government distanced itself from the offer, a New York law firm sent a letter to victims’ families reporting that Libya was willing to pay $2.7 billion into an escrow account—$10 million for each of the 270 people killed when Pam Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. (Last year, a Libyan intelligence agent was convicted of smuggling a bomb onto the plane, though Tripoli continues to deny any official involvement.) Forty percent would be released to the families when U.S. sanctions are dropped, 40 percent when the United Nations lifts its sanctions, and the final 20 percent when the United States removes Libya from its list of states that sponsor terrorism.
Three conditions must be met before the U.N. Security Council will lift its sanctions on Libya: The victims’ families must be compensated; Tripoli must renounce terrorism; and the government must admit responsibility for the bombing and cooperate with an inquiry. If the U.N. sanctions were removed, the United States would not be obliged to follow suit. According to the Independent, the Bush administration is “unlikely” to approve a deal with Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s government. Several families have come out against the offer because of the strings attached. Bob Monetti, who lost a son, told the Times, “This makes us agents for Libya. They killed our kids. Now we are going to represent them? I do not think so.”
In a leader headlined “Blood Money,” the Times denounced “the notion that money can absolve Libya from its responsibility for this atrocity. … A country that used to boast of its armed support for insurrections around the world and knowingly allowed a senior intelligence officer to plot mass murder cannot be told that all is forgotten and forgiven.” Still, the paper said, “A settlement with Tripoli would be in the interests of everyone.” The Financial Times said Qaddafi “should not be allowed to play games with the issue of compensation,” but the editorial encouraged the United States to acknowledge Libya’s improved behavior in recent years:
It is surely in the interests of the US administration to encourage continued progress by Libya and to make it an example of what diplomacy can achieve in the international campaign against terrorism. If Libya agrees to all Lockerbie-related demands and falls into compliance with UN resolutions, the US should agree to a lifting of international sanctions. Further progress on Libya’s conduct should prompt the US to consider easing its bilateral sanctions.
To insist that Libya make a formal renunciation of terrorism and an equally formal acceptance of responsibility for Lockerbie may not be justified. Insisting that a sovereign government make pledges of good behaviour smacks more of the headmaster’s study than the accepted give and take of international practice. The fact that Libya has at last stopped supporting terrorism and is willing to make substantial payments is the main thing.