Libya has offered to pay for damages caused by pro-Iranian demonstrators who attacked the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli last Sunday, State Department officials said yesterday.
The officials said the Libyan government of Col. Muammar Quaddafi officially made the offer yesterday after the United States on Wednesday suspended most of its operations at the embassy and threatened to take additional steps if Libya refused to accept responsibility for the attack.
The officials, who declined to be identified, said Washington had responded by asking the Libyans for further clarification of their willingness to provide adequate protection for the embassy in the future.
Although the officials declined to speculate on what might happen next, the implication was that the tough U.S. stance had induced Libya to try to ease the tensions that raised the possibility of a break in relations between the two nations.
Despite Qadaffi's pan-Arabic radicalism and frequent anti-western positions, Libya is the third largest supplier of imported oil to the United States and the second-largest customer for U.S. goods in the Middle East. The United States imports 10 percent of its daily oil needs, about 800,000 barrels, from Libya.
U.S. officials, noting that some of the participants in the embassy attack wore military uniforms and that sound trucks were on the scene to encourage the rioters, had expressed doubt that the attack could have happened without the support, or at least the tolerance, of the Tripoli regime.
Foreign Minister Ali Abdal Salam Turayki later expressed regret, and said "all the necessary steps" since have been taken to safeguard Americans. But he insisted that the attack was the result of a spontaneous demonstration by students supporting Iran in its dispute with the United States.
Before Sunday, Libya had followed an ambiguous, two-track approach to the U.S.-Iranian dispute. Its propaganda organs had given loud backing at Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's revolutionary Iranian government, but it also issued a public statement opposing the taking of hostages, and said Qaddafi had appealed to Khomeini personally to release the Americans held hostage in Tehran.
In disclosing the compensation offer, U.S. officials said no sums had been discussed. They said the United States has not had an opportunity to assess the amount of the damage to the embassy, and does not want to talk in specific money terms until it has a clearer idea of how much the repairs will cost.