Libya has started making payments into a nearly $2 billion fund to compensate the families of American victims of Libyan-linked terror attacks in the 1980s, another step in the full normalization of long-strained ties between Washington and Tripoli, the State Department said Thursday.
The “substantial amount” deposited overnight into a U.S. government account is not the full amount needed to fulfill a compensation agreement reached earlier this year, but officials said it demonstrated Libya's willingness to resolve outstanding claims over the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland and the 1986 bombing of a German disco.
The agreement calls for the creation of a $1.8 billion fund: $1.5 billion for those attacks and the 1989 bombing of a French airliner, and $300 million to Libyan victims of U.S. airstrikes ordered in retaliation for the disco bombing.
Libya has sought donations from private businesses to help cover its share of the fund. The Bush administration has vowed that no American taxpayer money will be used for the U.S. portion but has not said where the money will come from.
David Welch, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East who negotiated the deal, said the Libyan deposit “is a promising development” and a sign of Libya's “commitment to fully implementing the claims settlement agreement.”
He would not discuss the amount of what he termed a “down payment” to the fund or whether it was made by the Libyan government or private entities. But said he was hopeful that the remaining amount would be deposited soon, even amid the global economic crisis.
Under the agreement, the Bush administration pledged to restore the Libyan government's immunity from terror-related lawsuits and dismiss pending cases. But it is not obligated to do so until the full compensation is paid. In addition, payments will not be made to victims or their families until the fund hits the $1.8 billion mark.
U.S.-Libyan relations hit a low point in the 1980s but began to improve after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi renounced terrorism in 2003.
The improved relations come amid a huge increase in interest from U.S. firms, particularly in the energy sector, to do business in Libya, where European companies have had much greater access in recent years. Libya's proven oil reserves are the ninth largest in the world, close to 39 billion barrels, and vast areas remain unexplored for new deposits.