Following a series of meetings with Libyan officials that has intensified in recent months, the State Department is close to re-legitimizing Moammar Gadhafi, according to senior administration officials and other sources close to the talks. Although State officially claims that it is doing so in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolution relating to the Pam Am Flight 103 bombing, it is baffling that State would embrace a man who is an enthusiastic sponsor of terrorism, has both known terrorists and weapons of mass destruction within his country’s borders, and is actively developing nuclear weapons.
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns, who represented the U.S. in the talks, briefed families of the Pam Am victims in Washington Wednesday. Some of the families are irate that they are being used as pawns in State’s ploy to revive Gadhafi, while others believe that State is simply fulfilling its obligations under the Security Council resolution. But the issue is even more highly charged within the administration, where officials outside of State’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs—which has never met a tyrant it didn’t like—have been frozen out of Libyan negotiations.
Since the beginning of last year there have been at least three publicly-announced meetings with Libyan officials—in addition to others that occurred in secret—to achieve State’s goal of completing Gadhafi’s campaign for redemption. “Compensating the victims’ families is just a convenient excuse for State to bring Gadhafi back to the world stage,” says a senior administration official.
Even though fighting the war on terror necessarily includes fighting Gadhafi’s actions to bolster terrorists and develop WMDs, State is using the war on terror as further justification for “engagement” with the despot. State has pointed to recent cooperation Libya has provided in terms of intelligence on al Qaeda—even as Gadhafi has poured untold millions into al Qaeda’s coffers, confirms a senior administration official. Gadhafi is cunning in his Qaeda support, though: He either pays “ransoms” to Qaeda affiliates or gives money to “liberation” groups who happen to exist for the purpose of killing innocents.
State is so eager to normalize relations with Gadhafi that officials there have put the word out that the tyrant of Tripoli is a changed man. A particularly striking example of this spin machine in action can be found in a preface to a January 10, 2003 Newsweek interview with Gadhafi, in which the reporter bluntly states, “U.S. officials concede that the former master of terror appears to have gotten out of the terrorism business.” Nothing could be further from the truth, according to senior administration officials.
Not only has Gadhafi not gotten out of the “terrorism” business, but he is knee-deep in it. Aside from its weapons purchases from the Iranian mullahs, Libya is stockpiling assorted chemical and biological agents. But Gadhafi’s actions do not stop there. His regime is far enough along in developing nukes that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last August said that Libya may be the first nation in that part of the world to acquire nuclear capability. This news did not come as a surprise to the U.S., though, as Sharon made his declaration based on U.S. intelligence.
If State succeeds in striking a deal with Gadhafi on matters relating to the Pam Am 103 bombing, the White House will be in a terribly awkward position. By linking compensation for the families of the victims of Pan Am flight 103, State has made not supporting Gadhafi’s revival a tricky—and difficult—proposition, even though the White House is not keen on welcoming the despot back with open arms. “State is acting in contravention of the policies clearly established by this President,” notes a senior administration official, “but State has chosen a good hook to get what it wants.”
News reports last year peg the proposed settlement amount at $2.7 billion, a tidy sum that will no doubt help State sell the trade-off of compensation for legitimizing Gadhafi. Anticipating attacks, State has insisted on a fig leaf cover on the terrorism front, whereby Gadhafi must “renounce” terrorism—probably in terms as strong as those with which North Korea pledged to abandon its nuclear program back in 1994 or Saddam Hussein promised to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors.
The victims’ families deserve compensation, and they deserve it from the sponsor and protector of the man found guilty of the bombing. But what they don’t deserve is to be used to redeem the man ultimately responsible for the murder of their loved ones.