WASHINGTON — An Arab League delegation, testing the sincerity of Libya's offer to turn over two men wanted in the bombing of Pan American Flight 103, flew to Tripoli on Tuesday while the U.S. government kept up its drumbeat of doubts.
"History would suggest that we should be skeptical that this is indeed a good-faith offer," said Margaret Tutwiler, the State Department spokeswoman. "We suspect that Libya is once again trying to find another way to buy time and avoid complying with its obligations to the international community."
The U.S. view may have been borne out early today as the delegation, led by Arab League Secretary General Esmat Abdel Meguid, returned to Cairo without reaching accord with the Tripoli government, Reuters news agency reported. Meguid told reporters that consultations are still under way regarding the two suspects.
He declined to say whether he had extracted any firm commitment from Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi to eventually hand over the two men to the league.
The Libyan government, trying to head off Security Council sanctions, announced through its U.N. ambassador Monday that it would surrender the two suspects--Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi, 39, and Lamen Kahlifa Fhimah, 35--to the Arab League, which then could extradite them to either Britain or France for trial.
Although the offer to give up the two men has delayed U.N. consideration of sanctions against Libya, at least for a few days, the Bush Administration is still trying to keep up the pressure on Libya.
In a significant clampdown, the Treasury Department announced Operation Roadblock, a new campaign to chastise Americans who are doing business with Libya despite U.S. sanctions imposed more than five years ago.
"Any U.S. person who is working for Libya or is involved in travel-related transactions with Libya," said R. Richard Newcomb, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, "must understand that he can be severely punished for violating these sanctions.
"Kadafi too must realize that he cannot hope to benefit from normal economic relations with the U.S. or its citizens as long as he harbors terrorists and exports terror."
Treasury officials said they have sent 80 "letters of warning" to Americans who have worked in Libya or traveled there. Despite the U.S. restrictions, dozens of Americans have continued to work in lucrative jobs in Libya, especially in the oil industry.
Under U.S. law, working in or traveling to Libya carries a civil penalty of up to $10,000 a violation. Although these sanctions have been in place since 1986, officials have usually looked the other way when violations occurred.
Times staff writer Robin Wright contributed to this report.