By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 3, 2009
UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 2 -- As Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi prepares to make his first trip to the United States since taking power 40 years ago, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations urged him Wednesday not to gloat over the release of a Libyan secret service agent convicted in the Lockerbie jetliner bombing.
Scottish authorities last month released Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in connection with the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people, 189 of them Americans. He is dying of cancer, and authorities said they released him for humanitarian reasons. His case has long been a priority for Libyan officials, and Megrahi was greeted by cheering crowds when he arrived in Tripoli, Libya's capital.
"It goes without saying that virtually every American has been offended by the reception accorded to Mr. Megrahi in Libya upon his return from the U.K.," U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice told reporters. "This is a very raw and sensitive subject for all Americans."
Gaddafi is to attend meetings at the United Nations on Sept. 23 and 24, and Rice said: "How President Gaddafi chooses to comport himself, when he attends the General Assembly and the Security Council in New York, has the potential either to further aggravate those feelings and emotions or not."
Also Wednesday, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) called for a congressional investigation into whether an oil contract played a role in the former agent's release.
The Sunday Times in London has reported that the British government decided that releasing Megrahi would be in the national interest as a deal between Libya and energy giant BP was in the works. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has denied giving any assurances to Libyan officials that Megrahi would be freed in a deal for oil contracts. Scottish officials also denied any deals and said they relied on a tradition of compassion for dying prisoners.
Gaddafi's trip to the United States, his first since seizing power in 1969, marks a high point in Libya's effort to restore its standing on the international stage. Once an international pariah, Libya now has a seat on the U.N. Security Council and will assume the presidency of the U.N. General Assembly later this month.
Gaddafi's visit has infuriated relatives of Lockerbie victims and drawn protests from politicians, who have rejected Libya's requests to pitch his tent in Central Park or on the grounds of a Libyan diplomatic estate in New Jersey. Rice said Libyan officials have assured her that Gaddafi will stay in New York City during the trip.