Working With Qaddafi

The coming trial of two Libyans accused of planting the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 is welcome. It promises a measure of justice in a case that seemed stymied.

For many of the families involved in the Flight 103 tragedy, the trial in the Netherlands, under Scottish law, won't go far enough. They feel the two acted under orders from Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, and they may be right.

It's possible the trial could establish links between the bombing and Colonel Qaddafi or other Libyan higher-ups. But the difficulties of clearly forging that link are great.

Qaddafi has taken a calculated risk in allowing the extradition of the two suspects, both of whom are well-connected in Libyan governmental and social circles. He hopes to buy a degree of restored international respectability, a lifting of economic sanctions, and a resumption of foreign investment in his oil-rich land.

Already, the UN sanctions against Libya have been suspended, and their permanent repeal appears likely. US sanctions will remain in place. Qaddafi's compliance with all aspects of the extradition agreement will be key to whether those sanctions are eventually lifted.

Qaddafi has, in effect, taken a step that could rehabilitate him in the eyes of the international community. After years of isolation - during which his fire as an Arab radical and sponsor of terrorism seemed to cool - he has bargained with Western powers to resolve this long-running dispute. The "neutral ground" trial for the Libyans was Qaddafi's idea, though it took thorough reworking by London and much convincing of Washington before it came about. The United Nations was also a crucial player, as was President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, who has maintained warm relations with Qaddafi because of the Libyan's outspoken opposition to apartheid.

Through the bargaining, the Libyan leader has himself had many second thoughts about what might be set in motion - particularly what might come to light at the trial.

That, of course, remains to be seen. But the fact the trial is finally going forward proves that even a widely spurned national leader like Qaddafi can be engaged in fruitful negotiations, when patience and a degree of flexibility are employed.

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