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Lieberman: 'Consequences' for Libyan Bomber

Sunday, 23 Aug 2009 05:32 PM

The jubilant reception given Lockerbie airplane bomber has set back US-Libyan relations and deserves to be followed with diplomatic consequences, two prominent US lawmakers said Sunday.

Senator Joe Lieberman, a leading congressional voice on foreign policy and security, called the hero's welcome that greeted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi in Libya last week "a real setback for the anti-terrorist cause and takes our relations with Libya back to where they were for too long -- a bad place."

Lieberman also called for an investigation into Scotland's decision to release terminally ill Megrahi on compassionate grounds, amid allegations that the action was part of a quid pro quo that would give British oil interest exploration rights in Libya.

"The suggestions that have followed ... that there was an intermixing here of Megrahi's fate with British interests and oil exploration in Libya are shocking," Lieberman told CNN.

"I don't want to believe they are true, but they are hanging so heavily in the air that I hope that our friends in Britain will convene an independent investigation of this action by the Scottish Justice Minister to release a mass murderer," the Connecticut senator said.

Lieberman was part of a US delegation to Libya ahead of the controversial release by the Scottish government and had urged Tripoli to show restraint upon the Megrahi's return.

"We hoped the Colonel (Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi) would get our message that he could not expect relations with the United States, which have been good since after the Iraq war of 2003 ... to go on normally if Megrahi was not only released but greeted as a hero," he said.

Lieberman, an independent senator who was a vice presidential candidate in 2000, noted that bilateral relations had been on the upswing in recent years, with Tripoli cooperating in destroying its weapons of mass destruction and aiding US counterterrorism efforts.

Some of that progress, he said, had been dealt a blow.

"Don't expect President (Barack) Obama to meet Kadhafi at the UN General Assembly in New York in September," he said, signaling one of the first areas where Libya is likely to feel Washington's cold shoulder.

Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, speaking on the same CNN broadcast, said "consequences" should result from Libya's handling of Megrahi's return.

"The terrorist shows no compassion and to give him a compassionate release was wrong. We have to realize what impact this has on our war against terror," he said calling the Libyan intelligence agent a "mass murderer."

"I think it's very serious and I think there should be consequences," said Cardin, also urging a probe of the Scottish government's move.

"I think we need to know what this oil deal is all about and whether there was a compromise to the judicial system for commercial gain."

Meanwhile, Senator Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tempered the outrage somewhat, telling CNN that while Washington "ought to condemn as strongly as possible this release," it was also necessary "to continue our relations with Libya."

He suggested that political realities at home drove the reception received by Megrahi.

"I think it's important to notice that President Kadhafi has a constituency in Libya. And the rest of the world is now engaged in diplomatic relations with Libya," Lugar said.

Kadhafi met Friday with the Lockerbie bomber amid mounting Western outrage over the welcome he received upon his return and national television showed images of Kadhafi receiving and embracing Megrahi.

Megrahi, the only person convicted for the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people in the air and on the ground in the Scottish town of Lockerbie, was sentenced to life in prison in 2001.

On Thursday, upon his arrival in Tripoli, he was greeted by hundreds of flag-waving well-wishers, despite warnings from the United States that a public celebration might damage relations.

US President Barack Obama on Friday called the red-carpet reception Megrahi received "highly objectionable", while his spokesman Robert Gibbs denounced the display as "outrageous and disgusting."

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