WASHINGTON - Almost 15 years after Pan Am Flight 103 blew apart over Lockerbie, Scotland, Libya formally accepted responsibility yesterday for the bombing and readied a $2.7 billion deposit into a bank account for the victims.
But while the deal would help Libya regain some standing on the world stage, the United States didn't plan to lift its economic and diplomatic sanctions against the country or remove it from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, a senior U.S. official said.
Under the settlement, families of the 270 victims will receive a minimum of $5 million each, provided the United Nations formally lifts its sanctions against Libya.
The United States won't stand in the way of the removal of the U.N. sanctions, but it's likely to abstain from the vote rather than endorse the measure, said the senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Libyan, American and British officials delivered a letter yesterday to the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, who currently heads the Security Council, in which Libya accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials in connection with the midair bombing of the New York-bound flight in 1988. The United States has long insisted that Libya own up to its role in the bombing as part of any settlement.
In the letter, Libya also renounced terrorism and pledged to cooperate in the criminal probe of the bombing.
The $2.7 billion in compensation could be deposited in escrow in a Swiss bank account as soon as next week. Britain is expected to submit a resolution calling for the international sanctions to be repealed.
U.S. officials met yesterday with the families of some of the bombing victims at the State Department to discuss the deal.
The cash award could rise to $10 million for each victim if the United States cancels its sanctions and removes the country from the State Department terrorism list in the next eight months.
But the United States still has serious concerns about Libyan programs to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, the country's human rights record, and its meddling in the affairs of other African nations.
"Libya does not deserve a clean bill of health," the senior U.S. official said.
Some family members who were at meeting generally were supportive of the settlement, but agreed that the United States should continue to shun Libya.
"It's going to cost me a lot of money, but as long as the [Muammar el] Kadafi regime is in power it's just not even negotiable," said Eileen Monetti, of Cherry Hill, N.J., whose 20-year-old son, Richard, perished on the flight.
The U.N. Security Council slapped sanctions on Libya in 1991. They were suspended in 1999 after Libya handed over two suspects in the bombing for trial. One of the Libyan agents was convicted of murder at the trial, which was in the Netherlands, and the other was acquitted.