Tuesday, February 24, 2004

From combined dispatches

The United States yesterday put off lifting a ban on travel to Libya after Prime Minister Shokri Ghanem reportedly said Tripoli’s compensation for the 1988 bombing of a U.S. passenger jet was done “to buy peace” with other countries.

The Libyan comment drew bitter U.S. criticism of Mr. Ghanem for making the remarks that contradict Libya’s earlier admission of wrongdoing in the case.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, “We would expect a retraction from the Libyan government.”

“It’s the responsibility of the Libyan government to retract the statements that contradict what they have officially and authoritatively told the United Nations in writing, and on which basis, the United Nations Security Council acted,” Mr. Boucher told reporters.

In a BBC radio interview broadcast yesterday, Mr. Ghanem said, “We thought that it was easier for us to buy peace, and this is why we agreed on compensation.”

Libya agreed to accept formal responsibility for its role in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which took the lives of 277 persons, including many Americans, and agreed to pay $2.7 billion in compensation in a letter to the U.N. Security Council last August. The U.N. Security Council voted a month later to lift sanctions on Libya.

The United States was preparing to lift the decades-old ban on the use of U.S. passports for travel to Libya, but canceled the announcement yesterday.

“We had planned on making an announcement today about passports,” a senior State Department official said on the condition of anonymity. “But we have put off that announcement until the Libyan government retracts its statement.”

After months of intense talks with the U.S. and Britain, Libya announced in December that it will dismantle all its weapons of mass destruction programs.

This has raised expectations that the United States might lift a series of sanctions imposed on Libya in 1986, including bans on direct trade, commercial contacts and travel.

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