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Lantos Backs Sanctions’ End After Meeting With Kadafi

Times Staff Writer

After meeting Monday with Libyan leader Col. Moammar Kadafi, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee said the Bush administration should immediately lift restrictions blocking U.S. citizens from traveling to the North African nation.

Rep. Tom Lantos of San Mateo, a staunch supporter of Israel who helped write the legislation for sanctions against Libya in the 1980s, said his 90-minute session with Kadafi convinced him that the administration should take steps “over the next several months” to lift all sanctions and normalize relations if the Libyan leader continued to dismantle his programs to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

“I think we should seize the opportunity and proceed,” Lantos said in a phone interview from Amsterdam, where he flew after sipping tea with Kadafi in his Bedouin tent on Tripoli’s outskirts. “This is clearly in our nation’s interests.”

Lantos was the first member of Congress to pay an official visit to Kadafi since he came to power in 1969. Lantos was quickly followed into the tent by Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, the second-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. Weldon led a bipartisan delegation of six members of Congress to Libya.

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The visits were a diplomatic triumph for Kadafi, who for much of his rule has been treated as a pariah by the West. The remains of the leader’s home, bombed by the U.S. in 1986 in retaliation for a suspected Libyan terrorist attack, lie just yards from the tent where Kadafi received his guests. Kadafi’s young adopted daughter died in that bombing.

The debate in Washington over the sanctions has intensified since Kadafi declared last month that he was abandoning the pursuit of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and would allow international teams to dismantle his programs.

Libya has said it expected sanctions imposed in the 1980s to be quickly lifted in response. It has noted that the families of the 270 victims of Pan Am Flight 103, bombed by a Libyan intelligence agent in 1988 over Scotland, will forgo $6 million apiece in compensation from Libya if sanctions are not lifted by May 12. The families already have received $4 million each from Libya, which acknowledged responsibility for the attack.

The White House has hailed Kadafi’s pledge to abandon unconventional weapons as evidence that Washington’s tough stance toward so-called rogue nations is producing results. But it also has said it must wait and see whether Libya carries out its pledge before lifting sanctions.

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Various sanctions ban U.S. trade with and investment in Libya, an oil-rich nation that has said it is eager to invite Western companies back to develop its petroleum industry.

Analysts say Syria, Iran and North Korea are watching to see whether the U.S. rewards a government’s willingness to forgo unconventional weapons.

“The Bush administration wants to portray the way things are developing with Libya, with Iran and, they hope, eventually with North Korea as the result of showing that they are prepared to get tough,” said Jon B. Wolfsthal, a specialist in nonproliferation issues with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“They have been less willing to acknowledge that countries are watching how we deal with Libya and that if we are seen as not responding effectively to Libya’s good-faith efforts, it is also going to have a big impact on how they behave.”

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Weldon, emerging from a two-hour session with Kadafi on Monday, was upbeat.

“I’m very impressed about his commitment to what he has said publicly about weapons of mass destruction and a new direction. We let him know we’re very pleased and look forward to a normalization as soon as possible,” Weldon told the Reuters news agency.

But it was Lantos’ visit that has generated the most interest on Capitol Hill. “Lantos going to Libya is a little like Nixon going to China,” said a senior House aide who asked not to be named. “His views will carry weight” in the debate over sanctions.

Families of the victims of Pan Am 103 said Monday that they were watching the congressional visits and the warming of relations with mixed emotions.

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“The stance of our organization is that if Libya continues to follow through, and by rewarding it, we can entice other rogue nations and make the world a safer place, then the legacy of our loved ones would be affirmed,” said Kara Weipz, president of Victims of Pan Am 103. Her brother, Richard Monetti, died in the attack.

Weipz said victims’ families met last week with William J. Burns, head of the State Department’s Near East bureau, to discuss the administration’s views on Libya. Families were divided, she said, about whether the U.S. should quickly restore relations.

Dan Cohen, whose daughter, Theodora, was killed on Flight 103, said he and his wife are outraged by the turn of events.

“We are watching the murderer of our daughter being praised by the president of our country and by members of Congress as though Pan Am 103 never happened,” Cohen said. “It is incredibly difficult.”

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The Cohens have decided to refuse the $6 million Libya is supposed to pay them if sanctions are lifted before May 12.


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