BACKING off their earlier threat to impose new economic sanctions against Libya, Britain, France, and the United States have agreed to give Tripoli more time to produce two key suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
The three countries circulated a sanctions resolution in the United Nations Security Council on Oct. 1, calling for a freeze on Libyan assets abroad and banning Libya from purchasing equipment related to oil production.
UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali urged a delay after Libya eased its resistance last week to turning over the suspects. The Council is now expected to vote on the new sanctions on Oct. 15 if Libya does not hand over the two men.
But Libyan Foreign Minister Omar Mustafa al-Muntasser said Saturday that his country would not force the men to surrender. Instead, Tripoli has invited Scottish officials to come to Libya to try to convince the suspects to stand trial.
The Libyan mission to the UN said last week that its government no longer objected to the men's appearance before a Scottish court. But the Libyans said it was still up to the suspects, their families, and lawyers to make the decision on surrendering.
Many analysts doubted Libya would turn over the suspects in the bombing, which killed 270 people on board the flight and 11 on the ground. One of the two men, Abd al-Basit al-Maqrahi, is a member of the Meqahra, the ethnic group to which belong both a senior adviser to Col. Muammar Qaddafi, and the Libyan leader's brother-in-law, who runs the internal security services.
``If [Colonel Qaddafi] turns over those guys he undermines the loyalty of the security services at a time when he desperately needs them,'' says Henry Schuler, director of the energy and national security program at Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
THE new sanctions would freeze the foreign bank accounts of any Libyan authority. The embargo would prohibit the sale of equipment used in the refining and transportation of oil, but would allow for the import of equipment used for oil production. The ban would not freeze funds derived from oil, gas, or agricultural products after the resolution is adopted.
Mr. Schuler does not expect the new sanctions to have much impact on Libya. He says several months ago the Libyans started turning their cash in Swiss banks into $500,000 bearer bonds. ``So this so-called freeze is meaningless,'' he says.
The restriction on oil equipment also will not affect the 1.4 million barrels of crude oil that Libya exports each day. Libya's exports of refined products are very small, amounting to 140,000 barrels per day. In a worse case scenario, the Libyans could have to limit those exports if a refinery needed to be repaired.
``There will not be a noticeable impact on the oil market,'' predicts Cheryl Trench, executive vice president of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation, Inc.
According to Libyan experts, the current sanctions against air travel to and from Libya are causing the Libyans some inconvenience. Libyans now must travel to Tunisia to catch flights. Goods air freighted into Tunis must be trucked across the desert.
``The Tunisians say the roads are overused by trucks carrying goods to Libya,'' says Mary-Jane Deeb, a professor at the School of International Service at American University in Washington.
The Egyptians are also unhappy since more than 1 million Egyptians now work in Libya. ``If they want to go back and forth, they have to go by land,'' Ms. Deeb says. Egypt has built some airports near the border with Libya to try to help.
Despite the small impact, the Libyan government has been trying to win friends and influence US congressmen. Libya has provided funds to some congressmen who have tried to improve US-Libya ties, such as former Rep. William Dickinson (R) of Alabama, who was fined by the US Treasury Department for violating the embargo of Libya.