24 August 1998
("Take it or leave it," SecState tells Libya's government) (760) By Jane A. Morse USIA Diplomatic Correspondent Washington -- The United States and the United Kingdom have decided to go forward with a proposal to try the two Libyans accused of the 1988 Pan Am bombing before a Scottish court in the Netherlands. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced the decision at a special State Department briefing August 24. The move is fully consistent with United Nations Security Council resolutions, Albright said. The bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in flight over Scotland killed all 259 people on board, 186 of whom were Americans. The explosion killed another 11 people on the ground in the Scottish village of Lockerbie. Albright noted that Libya has "repeatedly stated its readiness to deliver the suspects for trial by a Scottish court sitting in a third country. This approach has been endorsed by the Arab League, the Organization of African Unity, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Non-Aligned Movement. "We now challenge Libya to turn promises to deeds. The suspects should be surrendered for trial promptly," the Secretary said. Albright emphasized that the plan is "a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. It is not subject to negotiation or change. Nor should it be subject to additional footdragging or delay. "We are ready to begin such a trial as soon as Libya turns over the suspects," the Secretary of State said. And what if the Libyan government does not turn over the suspects? "All options remain on the table," a senior administration official told reporters when asked the question after Albright's announcement. The official, who spoke on background only, noted that the proposal for the Scottish trial will be offered for only a short time. But the official declined to set a deadline for Libya to accept the offer. The official said the United States has had no direct contact with the Libyan government led by Muammar Qadhafi but that the Libyans have signaled their willingness to consider the offer through the acceptance of the idea by the Arab League, the Organization of African Unity, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Non-Aligned Movement. If the two suspects are turned over for justice, they will be tried before a Scottish Court with Scottish judges applying Scottish law, Albright said. According to the senior administration official, if the two are found guilty, they will serve up to a maximum of 30 years in a Scottish prison. There will be no jury, but three Scottish judges will preside, the official said. The two suspects, identified in the press as Abdel Basset Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, were agents of the Libyan government, US and UK law enforcement officials concluded after a two-and-a-half-year investigation, the US official said. State Department officials say both are in Libya but neither is being held in custody. Albright noted that one of the suspects was a senior Libyan intelligence official and the other a former manager of the Libyan Arab Airlines office in Malta. Both were indicted in US and UK courts for their parts in the crime. UN resolutions hold that if the two are turned over for justice, multilateral sanctions against Libya will be suspended, the senior administration official told reporters. US unilateral sanctions against Libya will not be affected, the official said. For the UN multilateral sanctions to be lifted, Libya must fully cooperate with UN resolutions calling for Libya to end its sponsorship of worldwide terrorist activities, the official said. Albright noted that she has stayed in contact with many of the American families who had loved ones killed on Pan Am 103. She spoke with a number of the families before making her announcement at the State Department, she said. "These families do not all agree on the proper strategy for achieving accountability in this case," the Secretary acknowledged. But they all agree that "the delays in bringing the suspects to trial have gone on for far too long," she said. "In dealing with a tragedy as profound and gutwrenching as this, we cannot speak of achieving true 'justice' in the human sense," Albright said. "For true justice implies a balancing of the scales. And there is no action or force or thing on earth that can balance the loss of a husband or daughter, son, parent or wife. "But we can and do demand accountability. One way or another, terrorists must answer for their crimes," the Secretary said.