WASHINGTON -- The United States said yesterday it would welcome serious Libyan steps to end its conflict with the United Nations and assured two accused terrorists that they would have all the rights to a fair trial afforded by U.S. law.
The U.S. signal came in response to news reports that the suspects charged by the United States and Britain in the Pan Am 103 bombing might be willing to surrender voluntarily if they were assured a fair trial.
"We've not been contacted by anyone with an offer for the two suspects to stand trial in the United States" or the United Kingdom, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
But, he added, "At a trial, of course, they would be afforded all the due process guarantees provided by U.S. law and available to all defendants regardless of national origin or the nature of the crime."
Mr. Boucher said: "We would like to resolve this situation and would welcome serious steps on the part of Libya.
"There have been a number of proposals over the past several weeks that in the end have not been serious."
Reuters, reporting from Tripoli early yesterday, quoted the Libyan lawyer for the two suspects as saying that his clients would be prepared to stand trial in a foreign country, including Scotland or the United States, if they could be guaranteed fair trials.
"My clients feel that they are innocent and they [would] accept a fair trial in any place where they have a guarantee," he said.
But the Associated Press later quoted the same lawyer, Ibrahim Legwell, as merely reiterating Libya's position that the two men could be surrendered abroad, but not to Britain or the United States.
The accounts came two days after the world began imposing a ban on air travel and arms sales to Libya, and slashing its diplomatic represention abroad to comply with U.N. sanctions.
It is unusual for the State Department to respond with a formal statement to press reports, particularly contradictory ones. In doing so yesterday, top officials clearly wanted to seize on the possibility of a major concession by Libya.
Mr. Boucher noted that just surrendering the two men would not fulfill the terms of U.N. resolutions, which also require Libya to halt support for terrorism and cooperate with France in a second airline-bombing probe.
A U.S. official, demanding anonymity, added that it was necessary to remind Libya that there is more to the resolutions than just "hanging two guys out to dry."
Meanwhile, the United States took a skeptical view of Libyan leader Col. Muammar el Kadafi's bid for a relaxation of the air sanctions to fly to Cairo, seeing in it an attempt to test the sanctions. Egyptian officials broached the question at a meeting of the U.N. sanctions committee Thursday.
The sanctions resolution allows exceptions to the travel ban only for humanitarian reasons.
"He's not a dying baby. He's not having a heart transplant," one official said.