The Department of State is facing a deadline and a dilemma. The deadline is April 22, because the following day, according to the three-way deal our diplomats negotiated with the oppressive tyranny of Muammar Khaddafi, the Bank of International Settlements in Switzerland will transfer $1.35 billion to Libya unless the United States has lifted sanctions. That sum is being held by the Swiss Bank on behalf of the families of the victims of the Lockerbie terrorist bombing, to which the Libyan government has admitted guilt.
In other words, either we lift sanctions within the next eight days or the Lockerbie widows and orphans lose–and Libya gains–$1.35 billion.
Actually, it’s even worse than that. We are clearly going to lift the sanctions some time in the fairly near future, as a demonstration of our pleasure with Khaddafi’s decision to shut down his WMD programs and to give us information about the covert programs of the terror masters. When that happens, he will collect slightly more than one billion dollars in assets that are now frozen by the U.S. Treasury.
So the accounting looks like this: Khaddafi’s paid half of his obligation to the families ($1.35 billion). If Foggy Bottom doesn’t move in the next few days, he’ll recover the other half. And then, when we normalize with Libya, he recovers another billion. Quite a deal for a guy who’s confessed to mass murder.
It would be terrible for the United States to let this happen, and it can be avoided in two ways: We can lift the sanctions right away, thereby obliging the Swiss to deliver the second tranche to the families. Or we can tell Khaddafi to extend the deadline, so that–as seems proper and logical to me–the balance will be paid whenever the sanctions are lifted. If he balks, somebody at State could whisper to him that if he doesn’t agree to the extension, the sanctions will remain.
I’m told that some clear-thinking senators are planning to send a letter to President Bush, along these lines. Good on them, but it shouldn’t be necessary. Our diplomats should have acted on this long since, in order to avoid the kind of last-minute pressure that is now upon them.
–Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen is Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.