WASHINGTON – Libya has paid $ 1.5 million to the families of the victims of terrorism, overcoming the last obstacle to full relations with the United States, the State Department said on Friday.
The payment of Tripoli ends legal liability in U.S. cases of terror and paves the way for greater participation by U.S. in the oil-rich nation.
President Bush signed an executive order Friday to restore the immunity of Libyan terrorism-related lawsuits and dismiss the pending cases with respect to compensation as part of an agreement reached this summer.
David Welch, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, which negotiated the agreement, Libya called for the rehabilitation of a terrorist nation to a U.S. ally “historical”.
The pact closes the book on a contentious period in the United States and Libya relations, which began in the 1980s with a series of attacks with the two countries, including the bombings of Pan Am 103, German and a disc in the U.S. air strikes on Libya.
U.S. corporate executives hope the new relationship will lead to billions of dollars of new investments in Libya, a country rich in oil reserves, but lack a developed infrastructure.
This summer, the United States and Libya signed an agreement for the State Department to create a $ 1.8 billion compensation fund to end claims for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and 1986 bombing of La Belle discotheque in Berlin, Germany. It also compensates victims of the Libyan aircraft from the U.S. in the 1980s.
Congress unanimously approved the resolution of claims by Libya Act, sponsored by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, which paved the way for an end to enmity and created the compensation fund for victims.
Under the agreement, Libya pays more than $ 500 million to settle claims from the remaining Lockerbie case and more than $ 280 million for victims of disco bombing. It also set aside funds to compensate victims of several other incidents blamed on Libya, while Libya has not accepted responsibility.
In exchange, Libya will now be exempt from legislation passed this year that allows terrorism victims to be compensated by assets frozen by governments blamed for the attacks. Tripoli called for the protection of U.S. to encourage companies to invest in Libya without fear of being sued by terrorism victims or their families.
An initial payment of $ 300 million was received this month, after opening a trade office in U.S. in Libya and a historic visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Another $ 600 million was received on Thursday and the remaining $ 600 million Friday, Welch said, adding that the families could begin receiving payments within days.
The remaining $ 300 million will go to victims of the Libyan bombing of Libya by U.S. warplanes in 1986. Libyans say dozens of people died in the U.S. air raid, including an adopted daughter of Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
President Reagan ordered the attacks on Tripoli and Benghazi, after two U.S. soldiers died and 79 were wounded Americans in 1986 disco bombing in Berlin.
The bombing of Pan Am flight 103 killed 270 people, including 189 Americans. Of the dead, 259 people died aboard the plane and 11 others on the ground.
Libya has paid 268 families involved in the bombing of Pan Am $ 8 million each of the 10 million dollar settlement. However, retained the remaining $ 2 million owed to each family over a dispute concerning the obligations of the U.S. Tripoli.
A group of relatives of victims of Pan Am said in a statement Friday that Libya hailed the completion of the agreement.
“The Pan Am 103 families deeply appreciate Senator Lautenberg’s work to urge the administration to take all measures to reach an agreement with reality,” spokeswoman Kara Weipz said in the statement. “While our loved ones will never be forgotten, we are glad this chapter in our effort is finally over.”
The ties between the two countries began to improve in 2003 when Libya renounced its weapons of mass destruction and began the program to compensate victims of Lockerbie. However, demands prevented the two countries since the normalization of ties fully.
The State Department has said that the operation was chased into a “purely humanitarian basis and does not constitute an admission of guilt by either side.”
Senior State Department officials said that the formula has been designed to respect the sensitivities of Libya on compensation for victims of incidents for which it has not taken responsibility, and also allow Libya to resolve outstanding claims by the air strikes on Tripoli. Donations to resolve the claims in Libya were placed in the “voluntary” fund, from which each of the countries involved in the claims is based on money to pay its citizens.
Welch would not say exactly who the money came from, but stressed that no American taxpayer money is used to compensate Libya.
The agreement is to be followed by an improvement in U.S. relations with Libya, including confirmation of a U.S. ambassador, held up the payments were made.
Lautenberg applauded the payment on Friday.
“American victims and their families have waited decades for Libya to pay for their deadly acts of violence and today have received long ago justice,” he said in a statement. “I am pleased that our relentless pressure and support to victims of terror has led to this historic moment.”
Rice visit in September, the first by a secretary of state since 1953, was hailed by both countries as a breakthrough. It followed months of negotiations between the two countries.