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U.S. Abstains as U.N. Lifts Libya Sanctions

The vote enables Pan Am blast victims' kin to receive compensation. Washington is still wary.

September 13, 2003|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — The Security Council lifted sanctions against Libya on Friday, 15 years after a Libyan agent planted a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The United States and France abstained in the 13-0 vote, which formally removed an 11-year weapons and travel embargo after Libya agreed to renounce terrorism, accept responsibility for the bombing and pay up to $2.7 billion in compensation to the families of the 270 victims.

The vote was not without drama or reservations. On Tuesday, France threatened a veto to win more time to finalize a separate settlement with Libya for the 1989 bombing of a French airliner. Because it still had not sealed the deal by Friday, France abstained from the vote to keep pressure on Tripoli.

The United States also abstained to make clear that it considered Libya on probation despite the U.N. Security Council action. The U.S. has not lifted its sanctions against the North African nation.

Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi has been eager to pay the billions and end the international isolation of his nation. This week, a charity controlled by Kadafi's son sought to speed the Security Council action by agreeing to increase compensation to the French families.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham said the Security Council's decision "should not be misconstrued by Libya or by the world community as tacit U.S. acceptance that the government of Libya has rehabilitated itself." Washington remains concerned about Libya's human rights record, history of backing terrorism and conflict, and pursuing weapons of mass destruction, he said.

For the families of those who died, it was a bittersweet conclusion to their quest to hold Libya to account.

"We brought a Libyan dictator to his knees," said Cathleen Flynn, whose son J.P. was killed in the bombing. "Do I feel today is a victory? I think not. Today is just another day we've had to endure without our son."

Dozens of victims' relatives came to the council chamber for a second time this week to witness the vote.

Kara Weipz, whose brother Richard Monetti was on the Pan Am flight, said she held her breath when the French ambassador's hand did not go up to vote for the lifting of the sanctions. Then he abstained.

"After I realized he wasn't going to veto, I could breathe again," she said.

The day had special resonance for Weipz, coming a day after her brother's birthday and the second anniversary of the World Trade Center attack.

Weipz said that she went to the top of the Empire State Building and that, while gazing at the two shafts of light beaming up from ground zero, she felt a kinship with those honoring the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

"It has closed one door in the whole process," she said. "But we still don't know the whole truth of what happened."

The group of families of those killed in the Pan Am bombing has been meeting for 15 years. Its members continue to work together to lobby for improved airline security -- and provide emotional support for one another.

The first payment of $4 million per family is expected by the end of next week. Another $4 million will be paid after the U.S. lifts its sanctions on Libya, with the final $2 million to come after the State Department removes Libya from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

If Washington does not lift the sanctions within eight months, each family would receive a total of $5 million, and Libya could reclaim the remaining $1.35 billion from a Swiss escrow account.

In their statements after the vote, the U.S., French and German ambassadors referred to the 1986 bombing of the La Belle disco in Germany and urged Libya to make an additional settlement with the families of those victims. Three people, including two Americans, died in that attack, and 200 were injured.

The Reagan administration responded by bombing Kadafi's home. He escaped unscathed, but his 2-year-old daughter perished.

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