Following a series of meetings with Libyan officials that has intensified in recent months, the State Department is close to relegitimizing Muammar Qaddafi, according to senior administration officials and other sources close to the talks. While State officially claims that its actions are in accordance with the U.N. Security Council resolution relating to the Pam Am Flight 103 bombing, it is nonetheless baffling that State should embrace a man who is an enthusiastic sponsor of terrorism, who has both known terrorists and weapons of mass destruction within his country’s borders, and who is actively developing nuclear weapons.
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns, who represented the U.S. in the talks, is briefing families of the Pam Am victims in Washington Wednesday. Some of the families are irate that they are being used as pawns in State’s ploy to revive Qaddafi; others believe State is simply fulfilling its obligations under the Security Council resolution. But the issue is even more charged within the administration, where officials outside of State’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs — which has never met a tyrant it didn’t like — have been frozen out of Libyan negotiations.
Since the beginning of last year there have been at least three publicly announced meetings with Libyan officials — in addition to others that were held in secret — to achieve the State Department’s goal of completing Qaddafi’s campaign for redemption. “Compensating the victims’ families is just a convenient excuse for State to bring Qaddafi back to the world stage,” says a senior administration official.
Even though fighting the war on terror necessarily means fighting Qaddafi’s actions to bolster terrorists and develop WMDs, the State Department is actually using the war as further justification for “engagement” with the despot. State has pointed to recent cooperation Libya has provided in terms of intelligence on al Qaeda — even as Qaddafi has paid untold millions into al Qaeda’s coffers, a senior administration official confirms. Qaddafi is cunning, though: His method is to either pay “ransoms” to al Qaeda affiliates, or give money to “liberation” groups who happen to exist for the purpose of killing innocents.
State is so eager to normalize relations with Qaddafi that officials there are claiming that the tyrant of Tripoli is a changed man. A particularly striking example of the spin machine in action can be found in a preface to a January 10, 2003, Newsweek interview with Qaddafi, in which the reporter states, “U.S. officials concede that the former master of terror appears to have gotten out of the terrorism business.” Nothing could be further from the truth, according to senior administration officials.
Apart from its weapons purchases from the Iranian mullahs, Libya is also stockpiling assorted chemical and biological agents. But Qaddafi’s actions do not stop there. His regime is far enough along in developing nukes that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon noted last August that Libya could be the first nation in that part of the world to acquire nuclear capability. This news could hardly have come as a surprise to the U.S., though — Sharon made his declaration on the basis of U.S. intelligence.
If the State Department succeeds in striking a deal with Qaddafi on matters relating to the Pam Am 103 bombing, the White House will be in an awkward position. By linking compensation for the families of the victims of Pan Am flight 103, State has made not supporting Qaddafi’s revival a tricky — and difficult — proposition, even though the White House is not keen on welcoming the despot back with open arms. “State is acting in contravention of the policies clearly established by this president,” notes a senior administration official, “but State has chosen a good hook to get what it wants.”
News reports last year pegged the proposed settlement amount at $2.7 billion, a tidy sum that will no doubt help State sell the trade-off of compensation for legitimizing Qaddafi. In anticipation of attacks, State has insisted on a fig-leaf cover on the terrorism front, whereby Qaddafi must “renounce” terrorism — probably in terms as strong as those with which North Korea pledged to abandon its nuclear program back in 1994, or with which Saddam Hussein promised to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors.
The victims’ families deserve compensation, and they deserve it from the sponsor and protector of the man found guilty of the bombing. What they don’t deserve is to be used to redeem the very man ultimately responsible for the murder of their loved ones.
— Joel Mowbray is an NRO contributor and a Townhall.com columnist.