UK denies deal pending on Libyan Lockerbie agent

Wed 1 Aug 2007, 14:19 GMT

(Adds British reaction, changes dateline, previous PARIS)

LONDON, Aug 1 (Reuters) - Britain denied on Wednesday it was hatching a deal to free the Libyan agent convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, after the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said he was confident of his early return.

Saif al-Islam told French newspaper Le Monde there was a link between the case of the jailed agent, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, and Libya's freeing last month of six foreign medics convicted of deliberately infecting Libyan children with HIV.

"We will soon have an extradition agreement with Britain," Islam was quoted as saying, adding Libyan officials had been in London to talk about the case around a month ago.

He said Libya had "established a link" between Megrahi's case and that of the medics, whose release cleared the way for improved ties between the north African state and the European Union.

In London, a Foreign Office spokesman said no such link existed.

"Any decision on Mr Megrahi would be a matter for the Scottish courts and the Scottish authorities. There is no deal being done," the spokesman said.

Megrahi was found guilty in 2001 of the bombing of a Pan Am flight over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, which killed 270 people. He is serving a life sentence in a Scottish prison but in June won the right to launch an appeal.

Weeks earlier, Britain had been forced to issue a round of denials of his imminent release after acknowledging it was working on a judicial agreement with Libya covering legal cooperation, extradition and prisoner transfer.

Scotland's premier and British officials have denied that agreement would have any bearing on Megrahi's case.

Gaddafi's son Islam told Reuters in an interview earlier this week that Libya was confident it would be proved innocent of the Lockerbie airliner bombing and that its priority was now the release of Megrahi.

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I find this well informed analysis of Gaddafi entirely credible, and a real rapprochement devoutly to be hoped for.

 

If the 2nd appeal does overturn Megrahi's verdict then George W. might see the possibilities for peaceful progress.

Another aspect of Gaddafi's adaptability may be over water. He invested unimaginable sums in the 'Great Man Made River' project, to irrigate from a reservoir under the Sahara.

There are rumours that the reservoir will not provide supplies for all that long, at projected rates of use, besides, some of the reservoir is probably under Chad or even Egypt. If so this would be a classic setting for a climate-change-driven water war to emerge. But now there are suggestions that the French have offered Libya a nuclear powered desalination plant as an alternative source of desalinated water pumped from the Med.

Jim S.

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Washington Post

Gaddafi's Libya: An Ally for America?

By Benjamin R. Barber

Wednesday, August 15, 2007; Page A11

The Benghazi Six -- five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor condemned to death for allegedly spreading HIV among children in a Libyan hospital -- were finally released last month. The media, looking for an explanation that grabs credit for the West, have fixed on CÚcilia Sarkozy, wife of the new French president and a late presence in the negotiations. After holding the nurses for eight years, Moammar Gaddafi was supposedly unable to resist Sarkozy's come-hither eyes and allowed her to walk away with his prisoners.

But the real drama is not in Sarkozy's agile grandstanding (the French did get a lucrative arms deal) or in the protracted negotiations involving Bulgaria, the European Commission and Gaddafi's gifted son, Saif al-Islam. Rather, the release points to deep changes in the Libyan regime that began in 2003, when Libya gave up its nuclear program voluntarily, and that continue today with gradual shifts in Libyan governance, its economy and civil society that have been largely ignored by the West.

 

 




 

The real architect of the release was Libya's leader. Written off not long ago as an implacable despot, Gaddafi is a complex and adaptive thinker as well as an efficient, if laid-back, autocrat. Unlike almost any other Arab ruler, he has exhibited an extraordinary capacity to rethink his country's role in a changed and changing world.

I say this from experience. In several one-on-one conversations over the past year, Gaddafi repeatedly told me that Libya sought a genuine rapprochement with the United States and that the issues of the Benghazi Six -- along with the still-outstanding final payment from Libya to families of the Lockerbie, Scotland, bombing victims -- would be resolved. And behold: The nurses are free.

In all my public and private conversations with Gaddafi, including a roundtable moderated by David Frost and televised by BBC in March during which Gaddafi responded to unrehearsed questions, Gaddafi acknowledged his history of enmity with the West and did not deny Libya's erstwhile involvement in terrorism. But he spoke of a new chapter for Libya and backed it up with a commitment to societal change. He insisted that in the Libya that comes after him there would be no new Gaddafi but self-governance.

This isn't mere bluster. Gaddafi has taken grave risks in the name of change: offending the Benghazi clans that engineered the nurses' arrest; giving up his nuclear program while rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea use theirs to blackmail the West; holding open conversations over the past year with Western intellectuals, not just progressives such as Robert Putnam of Harvard and me but neocon pundit Francis Fukuyama and the tough New Democrat defense expert Joseph N. Nye. Moreover, in seeking to modify the banking industry and economy, he has rattled the existing elite who benefit from the status quo.

Surprisingly flexible and pragmatic, Gaddafi was once an ardent socialist who now acknowledges private property and capital as sometimes appropriate elements in developing societies. Once an opponent of representative central government, he is wrestling with the need to delegate substantial authority to competent public officials if Libya is to join the global system. Once fearful of outside media, he has permitted satellite dishes throughout his country, and he himself surfs the Internet.

Libya under Gaddafi has embarked on a journey that could make it the first Arab state to transition peacefully and without overt Western intervention to a stable, non-autocratic government and, in time, to an indigenous mixed constitution favoring direct democracy locally and efficient government centrally.

Such a thought may seem absurd to Western observers who remember only Gaddafi's insurgent past and the heinous terrorist act over Lockerbie. Yet Gaddafi also wrote a direct democratic manifesto ("The Green Book") in the 1970s and convened hundreds of "People's Conferences" where women and men have met regularly for the past 30 years. Have they wielded much actual power? No. Could they be built upon? Yes.

Completely off the radar, without spending a dollar or posting a single soldier, the United States has a potential partner in what could become an emerging Arab democracy smack in the middle of Africa's north coast. This partner possesses vital sulfur-free gas and oil resources, a pristine Mediterranean shoreline, a non-Islamist Muslim population, and intelligence capacities crucial to the war on terrorism. Gaddafi, for example, ardently opposes the al-Qaeda brand of Wahhabist fundamentalism that Saudi Arabia sponsors.

Cynics will disregard all this; but after America's "realist" experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, this may actually turn out to be a recipe for peace and partnership in the unlikeliest of places.

Benjamin R. Barber, the author of "Jihad vs. McWorld" and "Consumed," is a senior fellow at Demos, a New York-based think tank focused on the theory and practice of democracy.

 

Dr Jim Swire (jim@swirefamily.net)