US may shorten extension of passport ban for Libya travel
The US could, this week, amend the ban on the use of US passports for travel to Libya, the State Department said Tuesday ahead of a deadline to drop or continue the restriction. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has until Friday to eliminate, extend for a year, extend for a shorter period or otherwise amend the passport ban but has not decided on what course of action to take, spokesman Richard Boucher said.
"The restriction on the use of US passports for travel to Libya expires on the 24th," Boucher told reporters. "The secretary will decide before that date what to do. She can go from zero to one year, and she will decide when she decides," he added. The 19-year-old ban forbidding Americans from using their US passports to enter Libya must be reviewed every year.
Both Boucher and another department official declined comment on a report in Tuesday's Baltimore Sun newspaper that said Albright was likely to extend the ban for less than a year in a bid at rapprochement with Libya.
The report cited Congressional aides and families of the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing as saying they had been told a shorter extension of the ban was being seriously considered as the trial of two Libyan intelligence agents for the incident over Lockerbie, Scotland continues in the Netherlands. Pan Am flight 103 blew up over the small Scottish town of Lockerbie in December 1988, killing 259 persons on board and 11 on the ground.
Libyan cooperation with the trial is considered by Washington to be essential to restoring normal contact with Tripoli and earlier this month a State Department official said it would help dictate the secretary's decision to extend, or amend, the ban.
That official stressed the restriction would not be kept or changed on the basis of a verdict in the trial, and said the decision would also hinge on a report from a team of US diplomats who visited Tripoli in March to inspect security for prospective American visits.
The Scottish court, which has been trying Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah since May in Camp Zeist, adjourned on Monday until November 28 and legal sources say the trial could end in early January.
Washington has refused to comment on the trial while it is in progress. Libya's surrender of two bombing suspects for the trial resulted in the suspension of UN sanctions, a move followed by Britain normalizing diplomatic relations with Libya.
The United States, under heavy pressure from the families of the victims, has moved more slowly in approaching Libya despite keen commercial interest in the country from US oil firms. — (AFP, Washington)
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)