Libya and Vietnam Elected to Two-Year Terms on U.N. Security Council

Libya's U.N. envoy, Giadalla Ettalhi, above, hinted that Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi may one day participate in a Security Council meeting.
Libya's U.N. envoy, Giadalla Ettalhi, above, hinted that Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi may one day participate in a Security Council meeting. (By Daniel Barry -- Bloomberg News)
By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2007

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 16 -- Libya and Vietnam were elected overwhelmingly on Tuesday to serve two-year terms on the U.N. Security Council, marking the diplomatic revival of two of the United States' former Cold War enemies, and raising the possibility of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi one day presiding over the world's premier security body.

The vote in the U.N. General Assembly showed how much the ideological map has been redrawn at the United Nations since the Cold War, when U.S. troops battled communist forces in Vietnam and U.S. fighter jets bombed Tripoli in retaliation for Libya's 1986 attack that killed two Americans at a Berlin nightclub frequented by U.S. servicemen.

Now, Washington is promoting oil and commercial deals with its former adversaries. The changes have been particularly dramatic with Libya, which had been the target of U.S. and U.N. sanctions for its role in the 1988 bombing by Libyan agents of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Gaddafi's son last month and is planning the first visit to Libya by the top U.S. diplomat in more than 30 years. Libya's U.N. envoy, Giadalla Ettalhi, hinted Tuesday that the Libyan leader might one day participate in a Security Council meeting. "Why not?" he said.

"They were involved in promoting terrorism for a long time against Americans," countered Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA expert on Libya who served in the White House when President Ronald Reagan decided to bomb Tripoli. "To see that we now liaise with the Libyans, that we are promoting diplomatic relations, signing new oil agreements -- it's kind of a bitter pill for a lot of people."

Relatives of the Lockerbie victims expressed disappointment that the State Department had not derailed Libya's candidacy -- as it did in 1995 and 2000 -- even though Libya had failed to fulfill its commitment to pay $10 million to each of the victims' families. James Kreindler, a victims' lawyer, said that Libya had paid $8 million to each family but refused to provide the final $2 million due after Libya was dropped from State's list of terrorism sponsors.

Kathleen Flynn, whose son, J.P., died in the Pan Am attack, sat in the General Assembly visitors gallery as Libya received the support of 178 of 192 U.N. members in a secret ballot. "I thought it was a very sad day at the United Nations for us and for Americans in general," Flynn said. "We have now let a terrorist nation that blew up an American plane and killed 270 innocent people from 21 countries . . . have a seat on the U.N. Security Council."

"Any American government that is ready to shake Gaddafi's bloody hands has lost any claim to morality or patriotism," said Dan Cohen, whose 20-year-old daughter died in the bombing. "But he has a lot of oil, and perhaps that trumps everything."

Ettalhi, the Libyan diplomat, insisted that his government had met its Lockerbie-related obligations. The issue is "behind us," he told reporters after the vote. "I think our relations with the United States nowadays are back to normal," he added.

Alejandro D. Wolff, the U.S. deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said the United States would press Libya to meet the final payment but that it was time to turn a page. "The world obviously does change," he said. But Wolff said he recognized the concerns of the victims' relatives who attended Tuesday's meeting. "Their presence was felt here today," he said.

Vietnam's election to the Security Council proved less controversial in Washington, where prominent Republican and Democratic war veterans have long pressed for closer ties. At the U.N. General Assembly, Vietnam gained 183 votes in favor of its first Security Council seat since it joined the United Nations in 1977.

But the communist government's top U.N. envoy made it clear that his country had little enthusiasm for U.S. efforts to impose sanctions on Iran or Burma. "In general we are not for sanctions when they are not necessary because experience shows that sanctions in many cases only cause difficulties for the civilians and the people of a country," said Vietnam's U.N. envoy, Le Luong Minh.

The U.N. Security Council is made up of five permanent members with veto power -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- and 10 rotating members that serve two-year terms. Burkina Faso, Costa Rica and Croatia also won Security Council seats. They will begin their two-year terms on Jan. 1, 2008.

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