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Case Studies in Sanctions and Terrorism: Libya

Case Studies in Sanctions and Terrorism

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Case 78-8

United States v. Libya (1978-: Gadhafi, Terrorism)

Case 92-12
United Nations v. Libya (1992-99: Pan Am 103)

| Chronology of Key Events | Goals of Sender Country | Response to Target Country |
Attitude of Other Countries | Economic Impact | Assessment | Author's Summary |
Bibliography |

Goals of Sender Country

US Sanctions

December 1981
Administration officials emphasize that anti-Gadhafi strategy is not a response to assassination reports. Instead, they say strategy is linked "to a presidential decision, taken months ago, to devote major US efforts to the task of weakening the Gadhafi regime." (Wall Street Journal, 11 December 1981, 3, 31; Washington Post, 11 December 1981, A28)

August 1983
Anonymous administration official: "American policy for Libya is to get out of Chad. ... The Libyans should not be in Chad. We have to show the Libyans they cannot win in Chad. ..." (New York Times, 19 August 1983, A6)

January 1986
President Reagan cites conditions for lifting sanctions: "[Gadhafi] would have to reveal by action that he has severed those connections [Libya's financial support, provisions of training camps for terrorist] and is no longer backing these terrorists groups." (New York Times, 12 January 1986, A12)

December 1995
Senator Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY), Chairman, Senate Banking Committee and cosponsor of the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act: "We must answer the cry for justice by the families of the 270 victims of this terrorist attack [against Pan Am Flight 103], 189 of them Americans, with 35 from New York State. ... We must send the message that terrorism, sponsorship of terrorism, and those who subsidize terrorism will not be ignored. ... Libya, with a long and documented history of obscene violations of human rights and international law, must pay the price for its part in this slaughter and its past support for other international terrorist acts." (Congressional Record, 20 December 1995)

July 1996
President Bill Clinton, at the signing ceremony, declared that the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act "will help to deny [Iran and Libya] the money they need to finance terrorism. It will limit the flow of resources necessary to obtain weapons of mass destruction. It will heighten pressure on Libya to extradite the suspects in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103." (Rose 143-44)

May 2000
Ronald E. Neumann, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs:
"U.S. policy and policy goals vis-à-vis Libya have remained consistent through three Administrations. Our goals have been to end Libyan support for terrorism, prevent Tripoli’s ability to obtain weapons of mass destruction and contain Qadhafi’s regional ambitions. Since Lockerbie, we have added additional aims, including bringing the persons responsible to justice." (Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, USIS, 4 May 2000)

January 2001
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer: "The United States and the United Kingdom have made clear to the Government of Libya that the delivery of a verdict against the suspects in the Pan Am 103 trial does not in itself signify an end to UN sanctions against Libya. UN Security Council Resolutions call on Libya to satisfy certain requirements, including compensation to the victims' families and the acceptance of responsibility for this act of terrorism, before UN sanctions will be removed." (USIS, 31 January 2001)

August 2003
Secretary of State Colin Powell: "The lifting of sanctions at the United Nations will not affect U.S. bilateral sanctions on Libya, which will remain in place. We remain deeply concerned about other aspects of Libya’s behavior, including its poor human rights record and lack of democratic institutions; its destructive role in perpetuating regional conflicts in Africa; and, most troubling, its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their related delivery system. Libya also remains on the state sponsors of terrorism list, which carries its own sanctions. Libya must address the concerns underlying these bilateral measures. Libya must continue to take definitive action to assist in the fight against international terrorism.” (Department of State, Press Release, 15 August 2003)

February 2004
The White House Press Secretary: “… While more remains to be done, Libya's actions have been serious, credible, and consistent with Colonel Qadhafi's public declaration that Libya seeks to play a role in ‘building a new world free from WMD and from all forms of terrorism’…

As Libya continues to take steps that will lead to the complete dismantling of its WMD and MTCR-class missiles programs and adheres to its renunciation of terrorism, the United States will continuously evaluate the range of bilateral sanctions that remain in place relating to Libya.

The United States will approach relations with Libya on a careful, step-by-step basis. We have made clear that progress in our bilateral relationship will depend upon continued, good faith implementation by Libya of its own public commitments on WMD, missiles, and terrorism." (The White House, Statement by the Press Secretary, 26 February 2004)

UN Sanctions

In order for UN sanctions to be permanently lifted, Libya must:

  • cooperate with the Pan Am 103 investigation and trial
  • accept responsibility for the actions of Libyan officials in connection with that crime
  • pay appropriate compensation
  • commit itself to cease all forms of terrorist action and all assistance to terrorist groups
These requirements are spelled out in letters to the secretary general by the United States, United Kingdom and France. The letters are referenced in UN resolutions 731, 748, and 833 and constitute binding conditions for the removal of UN sanctions. (Katzman 57)

March 1992
United Nations Security Council Resolution 748: "The Security Council ... 1. Decides that the Libyan Government must now comply without any further delay with [the UN demands for extradition of the suspects in the Pan Am bombing] 2. Decides also that the Libyan Government must commit itself definitively to cease all forms of terrorist action and all assistance to terrorist groups and that it must promptly, by concrete actions, demonstrate its renunciation of terrorism. ..."

April 1992
UK Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd: "These [UN sanctions] are not punitive sanctions. They tackle exactly those areas of Libyan life which are part of the trouble. The trouble arose from air terrorism, so the action is against air traffic. It arose from arms, and therefore the action is against Libyan purchase of arms." (Washington Post, 16 April 1992, A33)

March 1998
US Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson: "If Libya truly wants these [UN] sanctions lifted, its course of action is clear: Surrender the two suspects so they can receive a fair trial in the appropriate criminal court." (US Information Service, 20 March 1998)

March 1998
In order for UN sanctions to be permanently lifted, Libya must:

  • Cooperate with the Pan Am 103 investigation and trial
  • Accept responsibility for the actions of Libyan officials in connection with that crime
  • Pay appropriate compensation
  • Commit itself to cease all forms of terrorist action and all assistance to terrorist groups
These requirements are spelled out in letters to the Secretary General by the United States, United Kingdom and France. The letters are referenced in UN resolutions 731, 748, and 833 and constitute binding conditions for the removal of UN sanctions. (Katzman 57)

Response of Target Country

January 9, 1986
After imposition of unilateral US sanctions, Gadhafi warns "that continued American hostility toward his country would lead to 'more cooperation' between Libya and the Soviet Union." He adds that he may reassess Libya's policy denying base rights to Soviet ships in Libyan ports: "We may have to tip the balance in the Mediterranean if we feel we are threatened by a superpower such as the Americans." (New York Times, 10 January 1986, A1; Washington Post, 10 January 1986, A8)

January 15, 1986
Gadhafi in televised speech: "I declare that we shall train [Arab guerrillas] for terrorist and suicide missions and allocate trainers for them and place all the weapons needed for such missions at their disposal. I offer to the best of my ability to these volunteers, with the Palestinians at their head, my personal protection because Libya is a base for the liberation of Palestine. (New York Times, 16 January 1986, A8)

January 28, 1986
In proposal conveyed to Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, Gadhafi offers to stop supporting terrorism if US promises not to attack Libya. Italian officials interpret move as "trying to open channels to the US and Italy in the hopes of ending the confrontation." (New York Times, 29 January 1986, A16)

October 1994
Libyan Foreign Minister Omar al-Muntasser: "If there is an oil embargo, we will have no revenue or job opportunities for the nationals of these countries, which have around one million workers in Libya. ... Even assuming that the two accused did commit the Lockerbie crime [i.e., the Pan Am 103 bombing], it is wrong to punish an entire people for the deed of two individuals." (Mideast Mirror, 14 October 1994)

December 1994
Libyan UN Ambassador Mohamed Azwai: "[The US and the UK] are neither interested in uncovering the truth nor in the suffering of the families of the victims. Their main concern, we believe, is to ostracize Libya, making it appear as a pariah and an outlaw state in the world community for purely political reasons." (Washington Post, 21 December 1994)

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdurrahman Shalgam: "Libyan's foreign minister made clear the calculations behind the Libyan offer [to the families of Pan Am victims]. Mr. Shalgam…said Libyan economists had calculated that Libya would recover the final settlement of $2.7bn in 20 months if both the UN and US sanctions were lifted. 'The unilateral sanctions have been very tough,' he said. 'We depend on oil. The most sophisticated equipment is in the US, so is the technology, the skills. We used to send our own young people to study in the US. Now we don't have that possibility. We have $1bn in assets frozen with America. And we cannot invest in stocks there.' Libya's strategic goal, he said, was to raise oil production from 1.2m barrels a day to 3m over the next 15 years, and the return of American oil companies could save Libya as much as 20 cents a barrel. But that would never happen as long as the Lockerbie families continued to lobby in the US Congress to keep the sanctions in place. 'We want to rehabilitate our civil aviation industry and expand our oil investments. … And for all this we need American technology.' " (Financial Times, 28 October 2003, 15)

2 January 2006
M. Gadhafi interviewed by Al Jazeera (text reproduced by BBC): "With regard to Libya, it tried after the revolution—just like all other countries—to enter the nuclear weapons race and manufacture a nuclear bomb. That happened decades ago, but now things have changed. The world and alliances have changed. If Libya manufactures a nuclear bomb, who will it use it against? Which enemy will Libya use a nuclear bomb against? There is no such enemy. Therefore, why should we spend money on such a programme? Such a programme also brings problems to our country and may threaten its security more than protect it. Who will Libya use a nuclear bomb against? We could not find an answer to this question. Therefore, why should we [develop it]? Accordingly, we voluntarily cancelled our programme to manufacture a nuclear bomb." (BBC, 2 January 2006)

Attitude of Other Countries

"France banned sales of new weapons systems to Libya after demonstrators burned down its embassy in 1980, although it still provides spare parts for the French-built Mirage fighter planes and other equipment used by the Libyan military." (New York Times, 11 January 1986, A4)

"Although France has also reacted with concern to Libyan moves in Africa, it has refused in part for economic reasons to treat Colonel Gadhafi as a pariah. It buys oil from Libya and argues that it is important to keep lines of communication open with the Libyans. In addition to this specific difference, President François Mitterrand of France has sought to distance his policy toward Chad from Washington's. But American officials in the White House, Pentagon, and State Department all said today that American and French policy has been closely coordinated." (New York Times, 19 August 1983, A6)

West Germany
In January 1986, West Germany rejects US calls for sanctions, which it characterizes as "not a suitable instrument." Continuing German opposition to sanctions is also tied to presence of 1,500 German workers in Libya. It is later revealed, however, that West German firms played "major role" in construction of chemical plant in Libya widely suspected of being used to produce chemical weapons. (New York Times, 4 January 1986, 1; 10 January 1986, A6; 8 March 1990, A17; Washington Post, 4 January 1986, A15)

United Kingdom
Following murder of London policewoman by machine gun fire from inside Libyan embassy in April 1984, UK breaks diplomatic relations with Libya, bans arms exports, restricts government export credit guarantees. (Washington Post, 4 January 1986, A15; New York Times, 17 January 1986, A3)

Sir Geoffrey Howe, British Foreign Secretary, indicates that UK will not join US economic sanctions, but "will continue to urge the European allies to isolate Libya diplomatically and militarily." (New York Times, 17 January 1986, A3)


In January 1986, Italy bans arms sales to Libya, takes steps "to prevent Italian companies from taking over business from Americans who withdraw because of the United States economic sanctions." It emphasizes, however, that further measures should only be taken jointly by all members of European Community. At same time, Italian leaders express concern "that Mr. Reagan's policies on Libya might harm the chances of a negotiated peace settlement in the Middle East." (New York Times, 10 January 1986, A1, A6)

Belgium, Luxembourg

Private trade mission representing 14 companies goes ahead with its visit to Libya in late January 1986, noting that "if the Americans leave, many companies will be interested in replacing them." (New York Times, 11 January 1986, A4)

Italian Ambassador to the United States Ferdinando Salleo
and EU Ambassador Hugo Paeman

"Libya has been the subject of sanctions measures imposed by the Security Council of the United Nations. Any unilateral action which aims at imposing further measures outside that context can only undermine the authority of the economic sanctions agreed upon in the [UN] resolutions. ... If the US government wishes further measures to be implemented by the international community, it should introduce them for discussion in the relevant international body. ... This way of unilaterally attempting to impose penalties on third parties disturbs international trade and investment relations and depreciates the standing of internationally accepted fora for any such measures." (International Trade Reporter, 7 February 1996, 219)

In response to US sanctions in January 1986, Canada suspends insurance coverage subsidies for companies operating in Libya, bars new contracts to export advanced oil-drilling equipment to Libya, acts to "block any attempts by Libya to obtain technical assistance through Canada that was denied by the United States." No action is taken, however, against Canadians who seek to replace US workers forced to leave Libya. (New York Times, 11 January 1986, A5; Washington Post, 11 January 1986, A18)

Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries
On 12 December 1981, OPEC ministers reject Libyan appeal for "joint action" against US. (Washington Post, 12 December 1982, A1)

Islamic Conference, Arab League
In January 1986, 45-member Islamic Conference unanimously passes resolution denouncing US sanctions, calls on its members "to take the necessary actions deemed appropriate to counter these oppressive American measures." However, conference fails to approve call for economic sanctions against US. (New York Times, 22 January 1986, A4; Washington Post, 31 January 1986, A25)

Organization of African Unity
"In a June 8 [1998] resolution, the Organization of African Unity heads of state called on African nations to suspend compliance with UN Security Council sanctions on Libya immediately, for religious and humanitarian reasons, on OAU-related Libyan flights, and to ignore sanctions entirely beginning in September if the U.S. and UK have not by then agreed to one of Qadhafi's third-country trial options." (US Department of State, 10 June 1998)

South Africa
South African President Nelson Mandela dismisses US opposition and travels to Libya to show his appreciation for Gadhafi's support in the struggle against apartheid. Mandela states that South Africa supports the Organization of African Unity's call for a trial in a third country for the Pan Am suspects. (Washington Post, 23 October 1997, A27)

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