Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

"The New Libya" Backs a U.S.-Libyan Dialogue Group

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

"The New Libya" Backs a U.S.-Libyan Dialogue Group

Article excerpt

"The New Libya" Backs a U.S.-Libyan Dialogue Group

Formation of a U.S.-Libya Dialogue Group was announced at a conference held on neutral territory in Malta during the last week of August. The new group will aim at improving business and political relations between the two countries after nearly two decades of sanctions and disagreements connected initially with Libyan actions in support of the Palestinian cause and culminating in the explosion of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

"Within the legal context allowed us, the American side in the dialogue will seek to sponsor a major conference in the United States within the next three to six months, perhaps even in Washington, DC, as a first step in ending the eight years of stringent sanctions and almost 20 years Of bad relations," said Dr. Charles MacDonald of Florida International University, American co-chair of the new group.

However, United Nations sanctions now in suspension but not yet removed, U.S. sanctions that will not be suspended or removed at least until the end of the trial of the two Libyans before three Scottish judges sitting in the Netherlands and slated to begin in December, and the probability of civil actions by survivors of the Flight 103 victims that could threaten Libyan assets in the United States for years to come, make prospects for renewing full relations between the two countries more complex than they appeared at Malta.


A U.S. Supreme Court decision permitting civil suits in American courts against "terror designated states" despite sovereign immunity preventing such suits under international law, has opened the door for major claims against Libya that may take years to wend their way through the courts, if Libya chooses to defend itself. More likely is a negotiated compensation, which Libya has already provided in the case of a downed French passenger aircraft which exploded over Africa in December 1989.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision followed a campaign organized by the government of Israel's lobbying groups which urged the court to make it possible to pursue civil suits against the states designated as supporting terror in the Anti-Terror Act of 1995. Such suits could fie up closer relations with Libya or other Middle East states for years or decades. What worries legal experts is that the U.S. itself might be faced with similar suits in various parts of the world where American air power has resulted in civilian deaths, such as Serbia or Iraq.


Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC) is drafting new sanctions legislation that is aimed at regulating the presidential use of sanctions but it is not expected to be ready for the remaining part of this session of Congress. Nor is it expected to be at all flexible or to reduce the present sanctions being used throughout the Middle East against the "rogue" states.

Department of State and congressional sources are hopeful that the present chaotic use of sanctions by foreign policy advisers to the president will become more in accord with international practices and have better ground rules. Libyan diplomats have as their goal a lifting of U.S. sanctions within one year. But the blunt instrument of sanctions instead of the negotiations traditionally favored by professional diplomats is now applied in one form or another by the United States against 50 of the 194 countries in the world.


The three-day "Third Track" dialogue conference in Malta was the second such conference this year to be sponsored by the School of Management at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands headed by Dr. M.S. El-Namaki. Considerable pressure was placed on the university by supporters of Israel in Holland to cancel the conference, at least until after the trial of the two Libyans in Holland ends sometime next year. …

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