/ 14 August 2008

US, Libya sign landmark compensation deal

Libya and the United States on Thursday signed a compensation deal for American victims of Libyan attacks and US reprisals, paving the way for full normalisation of ties between the two countries.

The agreement was signed by visiting US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs David Welch and Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Fituri at the conclusion of a series of high-level meetings.

Fituri told reporters that inking the deal was ”the crowning of a long process of exhausting negotiations” and added that ”there was a desire on both sides to find a conclusion to this issue”.

The deal will see compensation paid for US victims of Libyan attacks in the 1980s and of the US reprisals that followed, Fituri said.

Welch earlier told the daily Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that if a deal could be agreed, the US would be ”in a situation that will allow a complete normalisation of relations with Libya”.

In 2006, the US announced a full normalisation of ties, dropping Libya from a State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism and raising diplomatic relations to the level of ambassadors.

However, the appointment of a US ambassador to Tripoli as well as approval of funds for a new embassy have been held up in the Senate.

Welch arrived in Tripoli on Wednesday to hold final discussions ahead of signing the far-reaching agreement that will see a fund set up to compensate US victims of Libyan-sponsored attacks.

Both US houses of Congress have passed a Bill that grants Libya immunity from lawsuits once compensation has been paid through the fund.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said after the Bill was passed on August 1 that she looked forward to further improvements in ties with the North African state.

The state news agency Jana, meanwhile, said on Thursday that US President George Bush had sent a message to Libyan leader Colonel Moammar Gadaffi in which he expressed his ”satisfaction” at the improvement in relations between Washington and Tripoli.

Welch gave the message to Gadaffi on Wednesday, the report said.

Bush’s message also stressed ”the important role Libya is playing internationally and expressed his hope that cooperation between the two countries would continue”, Jana said.

Libyan newspaper Oya said last month that Tripoli and Washington had resumed talks in Abu Dhabi on fully compensating the relatives of US victims of Libyan attacks as well as Libyan victims of US air raids.

Washington wants Tripoli to compensate fully families of the victims of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people, and a Berlin disco bombing that killed two Americans.

Libya, meanwhile, stressed the need for a mechanism to compensate victims of US reprisals.

Libya suffered several US air strikes on Tripoli and the town of Benghazi on April 16 1986, in which 41 people were killed, including an adopted daughter of Gadaffi’s.

US-Libyan relations were restored in early 2004 after more than two decades after Gadaffi announced that Tripoli was abandoning efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. — Sapa-AFP