Bush White House Reconsidering Reagan's 'Evil Man'
Gaddafi's Gestures May Change Policies
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 11, 2002; Page A14
The Bush administration is evaluating the recent
behavior of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, who has
been making overtures to Washington in hopes of
shedding his pariah status and eliminating the U.S.
embargo that bans American oil companies from Libya.
Gaddafi's emissaries have delivered intelligence on
terrorism since Sept. 11, while diplomats and lawyers
report progress toward a financial settlement and a
statement of Libyan responsibility for the 1988
bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Administration officials caution that no change in
U.S. policy is imminent. But supporters of an opening
say a new start for Libya would signal other countries
accused by the United States of sponsoring terrorism,
such as Syria and Iran, that better behavior will be
rewarded. It would show Arab nations that U.S.
ostracism need not be permanent. And it would fulfill
the ambitions of U.S. oil interests, which are
pressing to return to business in Libya.
Skeptics, however, question the wisdom of
rehabilitating a former terrorist enemy such as Libya,
particularly in the midst of the U.S. global campaign
against terrorism. "We have a lot of issues with the
Libyans," said an administration official, "and
they've got a long way to go to prove their bona
A decision is expected Thursday on the appeal of a
Libyan intelligence officer convicted in the Pan Am
103 attack, which killed 270 people. If the murder
verdict is upheld, negotiators from Libya, Britain and
the United States hope to finalize terms allowing
United Nations sanctions to be lifted permanently, a
preliminary step to any change in the unilateral U.S.
"There is clearly a light at the end of the tunnel if
he plays his cards right," said a U.S. official who
concentrates on Libya.
Top administration officials say any decision to lift
U.S. sanctions would take time and is by no means
certain. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has spoken
publicly of his worries about Libya's interest in
weapons of mass destruction, and a CIA report in
January said Libya continues to seek missile
technology and chemical weapons. Africa specialists
are raising questions about Gaddafi's backing of
troublesome governments on the continent.
Eleven prominent U.S. senators wrote Powell last month
to insist that the administration not take any
shortcuts to excuse Libya from U.N. sanctions. They
demanded that Gaddafi's government issue "an explicit
acceptance of responsibility" for the Lockerbie
bombing. To fulfill U.N. requirements, they said, the
administration must be "convinced, beyond a doubt,
that Libya has abandoned all support for terrorism"
and has told the Americans all it knows.
Demonstrating the political reach of the issue, the
signers ranged from liberals Edward M. Kennedy
(D-Mass.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Dianne
Feinstein (D-Calif.) to conservatives Jesse Helms
(R-N.C.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). Powell replied
that the administration has told the Libyans "there
will be no shortcuts and no deals."
"It is more important now than ever before," Powell
wrote, "that Libya put its terrorist past behind it
once and for all, including by dealing with Pan Am 103
as demanded by the international community."
Even the most studious Libya-watchers are wary of
predictions, given Gaddafi's reputation for
volatility. The CIA told Congress this year that Libya
expanded procurement of technology and equipment
related to rocket production and "continues to develop
its nuclear research and development program."
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said Gaddafi needs to
provide open international access to Libya's weapons
programs, calling transparency his "bottom line."
Comprehensive guidelines will be essential if the
United States frees Libya from sanctions, Lugar said,
"so that we're not fools in the process."
In 1986, shortly after U.S. intelligence tied Libya to
a disco bombing in Berlin that killed an American
soldier, President Ronald Reagan referred to Gaddafi
as "this evil man" and sent U.S. warplanes to attack
Libya, including Gaddafi's compound. The United States
also ordered four oil companies out of Libya, a move
they say has cost them billions.
Less than two years later, a bomb packed into a
suitcase exploded aboard Pan Am Flight 103, which was
carrying 259 mostly American passengers and crew.
Another 11 people died on the ground. British and
American investigators traced the crime to Libyan
agents and, after years of delay, Gaddafi turned over
two suspects for trial.
Gaddafi was a "madman in some respects," the State
Department's counterterrorism chief once said, but
also wily. In the late 1990s, ostracized and presiding
over a country suffering economically, Gaddafi turned
in a new direction. He surrendered the two agents to a
Netherlands court -- one was convicted in January --
extradited wanted terrorists to Arab countries,
severed ties with militant Palestinian groups and
expelled the Abu Nidal terrorist organization.
The State Department credited Gaddafi for the moves
and the United Nations suspended its sanctions in
1999. Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer
recently recalled his experience with Gaddafi, a sworn
enemy of the "Zionist occupation" of Arab lands.
"A long time, as I remember myself, Gaddafi kept us
very busy with what he was going to do with his next
move," Ben-Eliezer said. "Today, he keeps quiet. If
the other leaders will take their lessons from
Gaddafi, then I am happy."
The oil companies that quit Libya in 1986 -- Marathon,
Conoco, Amerada Hess and Occidental -- have been
pressing their case to Congress and the White House,
but they understand that their cause is a loser until
the Lockerbie case is settled. As one oil lobbyist put
it, "We can't set it up as blood of the victims
against oil profits."
"The families have to be paid, and Lockerbie has to be
brought to closure. That's the wall we're up against,"
said the lobbyist, who requested anonymity. "Our
intention has only been to protect our assets so that
at the point we have a normal relationship, we can go
back in. There is a sense that things will move in an
Attorneys for relatives of the Lockerbie victims have
met several times with Libyan negotiators, most
recently in Paris, where the parties discussed a
settlement counted in billions of dollars. Lawyer Lee
Kreindler said, "We're proceeding well toward a
settlement, but we're not there yet. We expect the
numbers to be very high."
The appeals court decision could play a role. Much
current thinking is based on the assumption that the
Scottish judges will affirm the conviction of Libyan
intelligence officer Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi. Libyans
including Gaddafi's son Seif el-Islam have been quoted
as saying the government is likely to pay compensation
even if Megrahi's verdict is overturned.
More important than money to some of the Pan Am 103
families is a Libyan statement of responsibility.
Gaddafi "would have to say, 'Libya did it, I was aware
of it' and give us the details," said Susan Cohen,
whose only child died aboard Pan Am 103. She said the
Libyan leader is "likely to pull all kinds of stuff."
Several U.S. officials said it is unlikely that
Gaddafi will take personal responsibility for the
If Libya settles, a Capitol Hill aide said, a
Bush-Cheney White House friendly to energy and oil
services interests will soon push to restart U.S.
trade with Libya. "There's a lot of pressure out
there," the aide said. "The oil companies want to go
back in, big-time."
A foreign diplomat in Washington, noting that other
governments have been trading with Libya, said the
parole of Gaddafi could send a positive message, but
the stakes are high.
"It's a big gamble," said the diplomat. "And you're
not gambling with an anonymous guy in a suit, you're
gambling with Gaddafi, and that's not an entirely safe