I n a COMPLEX ballet, the Libyan regime of Col. Muammar Qaddafi is trying to get the UN to lift sanctions the Security Council imposed for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. The United States must respond carefully so it doesn't let a state that sponsors terrorism off the hook.
A bomb planted by Libyan agents killed 259 people on the flight and 11 residents of the Scottish village of Lockerbie on the ground below. Careful investigative work by British, US, and other Western police and intelligence agencies uncovered Libya's responsibility for the explosion. Libyan agents also blew up a French UTA flight over Africa in 1989, killing all 170 aboard.
A 1999 trial by a Scottish court convicted one Libyan intelligence agent and acquitted another of planting the Pan Am bomb. (Despite Colonel Qaddafi's attempts to avoid blame, it is hard to believe he did not personally authorize the operation.) The trial took place seven years after the Security Council imposed air, arms, and oil-industry sanctions to force Tripoli to turn over the suspects.
Those sanctions require Libya to pay compensation to the victims' families, take responsibility for the attack, renounce terrorism, and cooperate in further investigations.
The US, Britain, and Libya inked a deal earlier this week in which Tripoli is to deposit $2.7 billion in reparations in an international bank account and send the Security Council a formal acceptance of responsibility for the bombing. Britain (and maybe the US) would then notify the council that Libya has met its requirements, and a vote to lift the sanctions would follow - with the US expected to abstain.
If the UN sanctions are lifted, Libya will pay the families $4 million each. It would give them another $4 million if the US lifts its unilateral sanctions, and $2 million more if the US removes Libya from its list of states sponsoring terrorism.
The victims' families have reluctantly agreed to the first payment. Whether Qaddafi upholds his end of the deal over the next few days is not a given: Libya has reneged on other agreements in the past.
The European Union lifted its sanctions in 1999 to reward Libya for delivering the suspects for trial. US oil companies may now pressure the US administration to lift its sanctions.
But the available evidence indicates Qaddafi has not changed his ways. The US should stick to its sanctions until Libya satisfies Washington that it has stopped supporting terrorism once and for all and is not pursuing weapons of mass destruction.