Libyan Sanctions Begin

April 16, 1992

The sanctions taken against Libya will not unduly inconvenience that regime. The diplomats being expelled from other countries were not carrying on normal relations anyway. The arms that won't be sold for the duration of the sanctions would not have altered Libya's capacity to harm its neighbors, which is real but limited. The passengers who won't be able to fly to Tripoli will need an extra day to drive in from Tunisia or Egypt.

So starts the first round in a test of will between Libyan President Muammar el Kadafi and the world community. Mr. Kadafi will not willingly or easily give up the Libyan intelligence agents wanted by Britain and the United States for one airliner bombing and by France for another. He must protect his underlings if they are to protect him. He cannot want them in Western custody free to talk about their instructions. He will wiggle and writhe and propose meaningless solutions that don't give the suspects up to the countries that want them.

The real test of the United Nations' newfound powers and its ability to combat state-sponsored terrorism will come when these sanctions have run their course and failed. Will Italy and Germany, Libya's biggest oil customers, agree to the logical next stage, a land and sea embargo and an oil boycott? Right now, there is ample oil from other sources, but seasoned oil customers with long memories can imagine other situations.

So far, the World Court does not want to be used as an end run around the Security Council, and all governments including Arab ones appear to be in compliance with sanctions. Egypt, Tunisia and Switzerland told Libyan airliners to keep out. They have no place to go. Governments' compliance with the letter of sanctions will not prevent their private citizens -- in such countries as Egypt, Tunisia and Malta -- from helping Libya overcome the spirit of sanctions.

This is part of a long, drawn-out drama. Mr. Kadafi may well cough up the suspects in the end. But he will have to believe in the efficacy of an oil boycott before he will consider doing so.

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