London, March 11 (Reuters): Libya reached an agreement with the US and Britain today to accept civil responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and compensate victims’ relatives, a source close to the talks said.
The deal would end a lingering dispute between the West and an Arab state shortly before a likely US-led war against Iraq.
“History is in the making. A deal could be announced at any moment,” the source said after US assistant secretary of state William Burns met Libyan and British officials in London.
Under the arrangement, Libya would compensate families of the 259 mostly American passengers and crew killed in the mid-air explosion of the Pan Am flight over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988 and 11 people killed on the ground.
Tripoli would pay up to $10 million per victim into a special trust account in return for a series of steps to remove UN and US sanctions against it, the source said. That would make the total value of the settlement roughly $2.7 billion if all conditions were met.
A Libyan intelligence agent, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, was convicted of the crime by a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands.
The source said a breakthrough in the talks came when Libya was convinced that it would be accepting civil liability for the acts of a state employee but not criminal responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing.
In Washington, a state department official confirmed the London talks had taken place and said: “It was a useful session and we made further progress.”
But the official declined to give details. Family members of passengers killed on Pan Am flight 103 said the state department had invited Lockerbie victims’ families to a meeting tomorrow for an update on the issue.
The source said Tripoli would initially pay $4 million per victim into an escrow account once UN sanctions against Libya, suspended after the Lockerbie trial, were formally lifted.
Another $4 million would follow if the US removed its national sanctions against Libya.
A final $2 million would be paid if Washington also repealed its Iran-Libya Sanctions Act.