A U.S. congressional delegation told Col. Muammar el Kadafi that he must acknowledge responsibility for the attack on Pan Am 103 in order for U.S.-Libyan relations to improve, a member of the delegation said yesterday.
Rep. John E. Sweeney, a New York Republican, was part of a six-member delegation that met with Kadafi for two hours in the Libyan desert Friday in a tent compound outside the dictator's hometown of Sirte.
Sweeney, in a telephone interview, said Kadafi criticized militants in general, expressed "sympathy" for American losses in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and condemned the role of 15 Saudi hijackers in the attacks carried out by 19 suicide hijackers.
But Kadafi evaded lawmakers' demands for direct acknowledgement of Libyan complicity in the 1988 mid-air bombing of the Pan Am jumbo jet that claimed 270 lives - including 189 Americans - and in the 1985 Berlin discotheque bombing that killed an American serviceman and a Turkish woman.
Sweeney said his upstate New York congressional district includes relatives of some of the 35 Syracuse University students who died aboard the London-to-New York flight shortly before Christmas in 1988.
Kadafi "acted as though he had never engaged in terrorism himself," Sweeney said. "He essentially danced away from responsibility as far as he could and frankly changed the subject."
Sweeney said he told Kadafi that constituents in upstate New York and the American people would never support improvements in U.S.-Libyan relations without direct acknowledgement of Libya's role in terrorist attacks that killed Americans.
Libya handed over two suspects for trial in the Pan Am bombing in 1999 - a Libyan military intelligence officer who was later convicted in connection with the attack and a Libyan airline official who was acquitted. Libya agreed in August to pay $2.7 billion to victims' relatives - a total of $10 million for each victim.
U.S.-Libyan relations have started to improve since Kadafi announced in December that his oil-rich nation would abandon secret programs to build chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
But Sweeney said the Libyan government continues to withhold the final $6 million in promised compensation for Pan Am 103 families pending an end to international economic sanctions that have cost the Libyan economy an estimated $30 billion.
"He has made these strong statements against terrorism and yet he must recognize the accusations of history and the overwhelming proof," Sweeney said. "You realize the guy is used to being a dictator and saying what he wants."
Sweeney said the American lawmakers and two translators met alone with Kadafi over tea.
Sweeney said lifting U.S. economic sanctions against Libya remained "premature" because "there are a lot of questions to answer before lawmakers would be supportive of that. We would have to have some acknowledgement on his part of his country's role in terrorism."
The congressional delegation included Sweeney, a member of the House Appropriations Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee, and five members of the House Intelligence Committee - including C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat.