Washington, 25 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The United States and Britain have been seeking for a decade to find a way to bring two suspected Libyan terrorists before a court of law to try them in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Yesterday, the two countries launched a new initiative.
The crash killed 259 passengers and crew and 11 people on the ground. Most of those killed were U.S. and Scottish nationals.
The Libyan government of Moammar Qadafi has steadfastly refused to turn the suspects -- Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah -- over to either Britain or the United States for trial, arguing that the men couldn't get a fair trial in either country. The U.N. Security Council has called for extradition of the men and has backed sanctions against Libya for refusing.
Now U.S and British officials have agreed on a proposal to try the two men at the Hague before a special court with Scottish judges applying Scottish law. The Dutch cabinet approved the proposal early yesterday.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made a public appearance in Washington yesterday to urge the Libyan government to respond promptly by extraditing the accused to Dutch authorities.
She said that the new proposal is fully consistent with the Security Council's resolutions. The Libyan government has in the past said it would deliver the suspects for trial in a third country. The Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and other international groups have endorsed the Libyan position. Now, Albright said, the British and Americans are calling on Libya to act on its words, as she put it: "to turn promises into deeds."
Albright said that the United States doesn't consider the new proposal a negotiating position. It is "take it or leave it," she said, meaning the proposal isn't open to discussion or modification.
Before making her public statement, Albright discussed the plan in a conference call with more than a dozen family members of the victims of the Pan Am 103 crash. She said in her statement that not all the family members agreed with the plan. Susan Cohen, whose daughter died in the crash, has been particularly vocal, saying that there should be no negotiating with terrorists. She called for a military strike against Libya.
But Albright said the United States is committed to a variety of responses to terrorism, military, financial and judicial. As she put it: "One way or another, terrorists must answer for their crimes."
A senior administrative official, who asked not to be identified, told reporters at a State Department briefing in Washington yesterday that the United States draws a number of distinctions between the Pan Am 103 sabotage and the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The United States conducted unilateral missile strikes on terrorist bases in retaliation for the embassy bombings.
The United States had credible evidence to place the blame almost immediately in the embassy bombings. In the Pan Am 103 sabotage, almost three years elapsed before the suspects were identified, the senior official said. In the case of the embassy bombings, he said, U.S. authorities believed that additional attacks were imminent if they failed to act.
He also reiterated Albright's point that the United States has a number of options to choose among in responding to terrorism, saying military strikes, diplomacy, financial sanctions and judicial proceedings each has a place in the arsenal of responses.