WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration is considering a plan to seize some of Libya's oil revenue as a way of pressuring Col. Muammar el Kadafi to hand over two suspects in the Lockerbie bombing for trial, officials said yesterday.
But with the United Nations weary of sanctions and even close ally Britain standing aloof, officials aren't optimistic that even this modest step will be approved by the U.N. Security Council.
Meeting in December with families who lost loved ones in the downing of Pan Am Flight 103, President Clinton promised to "seek yet stronger measures against Libya" if the suspects were not surrendered.
The occasion was the 10th anniversary of the bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 270 passengers and crew were killed, many of them Americans.
Clinton gave Libya a deadline of the next review of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council, which will occur today. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright reiterated the pledge in congressional testimony Feb. 4.
Under the U.S. plan being considered, a percentage of Libya's oil-sale proceeds would be turned over to the United Nations. Libya exports between $5 billion and $6 billion in oil a year, but its import costs equal or exceed its oil revenues.
The money captured by the Clinton proposal could be used to prepare for the trial of the two suspects or to pay for the maintenance of other anti-Libya sanctions. It could also be held in escrow for the victims' families.
This would be weaker than the system imposed on Iraq, in which Baghdad has to get permission to make specific purchases with its oil revenues. It also falls well short of an oil embargo, which would severely damage the Libyan economy.
U.S. officials admit they have no chance of winning support for an oil embargo, given the dependence of some European countries on Libyan oil.
Any tightening of existing sanctions may be hard to achieve.
Even Britain, which has also brought indictments against two Libyan intelligence officials in the Lockerbie case, is not ready to tighten sanctions. Instead, Britain is prepared today to maintain the existing sanctions that were imposed on Libya in 1992 and strengthened in 1993, and give Kadafi more time to turn over the suspects for trial.
Other members of the Security Council are eager to lift the sanctions. One member, Gambia, is reported by U.S. officials to have flouted the U.N. ban on flights into and out of Libya.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and diplomats from Saudi Arabia and South Africa have been trying to persuade Kadafi to accept a plan in which the suspects would be tried in The Hague by Scottish judges. If convicted, they would serve their sentences in a Scottish prison.
The Clinton administration has gone along with assurances to Kadafi that the trial is not intended to undermine the Libyan regime. U.S. officials insist, however, that this doesn't mean ignoring any evidence that might implicate high-level Libyan officials.
Annan has also told Libya in a letter that the suspects would not be interrogated against their will by Western intelligence officials. The United Nations would monitor the suspects' treatment in prison, officials said.
Neither these assurances, nor a commitment by the Security Council to suspend sanctions if the suspects are turned over for trial, has persuaded Kadafi to give them up.
Pub Date: 2/26/99