French Threaten Veto on U.N. Vote on Libyan Sanctions

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Facing a threatened French veto, the U.N. Security Council delayed a vote on lifting sanctions against Libya (search) until Friday and made clear it would not accept any further delays.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the United States was "very disappointed" that the vote didn't take place Tuesday -- especially for families of the 270 people killed in the 1988 Pan Am bombing (search) in Lockerbie, Scotland.

More than 50 relatives came to the United Nations to watch the vote to lift the sanctions, which were imposed in 1992 to get Moammar Gadhafi (search)'s government to hand over two men accused of the bombing.

After meeting behind closed doors for two hours, the Security Council opened a formal meeting and announced that the agenda item was the resolution to lift sanctions against Libya.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, the current council president, then invoked a rule to adjourn the meeting until Friday and called for a procedural vote. All 15 council members voted in favor of the adjournment.

Jones Parry, whose country sponsored the resolution, made clear that the unusual procedural move was aimed at preventing any further delay in lifting the sanctions imposed after the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103.

"The council is united and determined to address this issue at 10:30 a.m. on Friday," Jones Parry said as he gaveled the brief meeting to a close. "I don't want to talk about any more delay. The resolution will be voted on Friday."

France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere told a closed session before the meeting that his government would veto the resolution because it still has not finalized an agreement with Libya to increase compensation for victims of the 1989 bombing of a French airliner over Niger, council diplomats said.

The United States and Britain have pressed for a vote since Aug. 15, when Libya agreed to a $2.7 billion compensation deal for the families of the Lockerbie victims and acknowledged responsibility for the attack.

The deal will give each victim's family $5 million to $10 million, a settlement that embarrassed France.

The French government settled with Libya in 1999 for just $33 million to be shared by families of the 170 people killed in the bombing of a UTA flight over Niger in 1989 -- giving relatives of each victim about $194,000.

When French families learned of the Lockerbie settlement, they demanded more money.

France informed key council members early Tuesday it would abstain in the vote, according to a Security Council diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. But it later sought to delay the vote and threatened the veto.

France was the only country with a problem about the resolution. The United States, which will keep its own sanctions on Libya, was prepared to abstain on the vote to lift U.N. sanctions, the council diplomat said.

"The victims' families must confirm their satisfaction with the negotiations -- that would be the deciding factor for us," Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous said Tuesday in Paris.

He said negotiations were "moving along" and that France was hoping for a positive resolution.

The sanctions were imposed in 1992 to force Moammar Gadhafi's government to surrender two men wanted in the 1988 Pan Am bombing. They were indefinitely suspended in 1999 after the two Libyans were handed over for trial, but Libya has pressed for the embargoes to be lifted entirely to restore its standing in the international community.

Britain and the United States have said Libya has met all the requirements to lift the strictures.

If the resolution is approved, the ban on arms sales and air links would end immediately.

A Scottish court convicted Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi of the bombing in 2001 and sentenced him to life imprisonment. A second Libyan was acquitted.