Administration will seek harsher measures against Libya, Christopher says

March 31, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration, lashing out at an old U.S. adversary in the face of new alarm about terrorism, vowed yesterday to pursue additional global punishment against Libya, including an oil embargo.

Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, in blasts at other Mideast opponents, also labeled Iran an international outlaw and said that the behavior of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is getting worse.

United Nations sanctions imposed against Libya a year ago have failed to force the regime of Col. Muammar el Kadafi to surrender two men indicted in the United States, Britain and France in connection with the bombings of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 in late 1988 and an aircraft over Niger in 1989.

"I think the time has come to stiffen the embargo against Libya," Mr. Christopher told a congressional hearing yesterday. "We're consulting with our allies now about ways to stiffen it. One of the things we want to talk about is an oil embargo, so I'm very frustrated with the situation."

His sudden push struck diplomats here and at the United Nations as a bolt out of the blue, raising a long-dormant issue at a time when the Clinton administration is scrambling to prepare for a weekend summit with Russia's President Boris N. Yeltsin and working to apply pressure on Bosnian Serbs to sign a peace agreement.

Although an oil embargo would cut off Libya's principal source of revenue, the administration of President George Bush failed to push strongly for it in the face of opposition from Libyan oil customers in Europe and Asia.

Lesser sanctions that the U.N. Security Council agreed to impose -- a halt in military sales and commercial airline traffic, and cuts in diplomatic representation -- come up for review at the United Nations next month.

Preparing for the review, the United States several weeks ago raised the prospect of an oil embargo against Libya with Britain ++ and France, but it ran into flat opposition from French President Francois Mitterrand, diplomats said.

Europeans thought the matter had been dropped. But after Mr. Christopher spoke yesterday, U.S. officials said they would make a new effort to persuade the French. Mr. Mitterrand has been severely weakened politically following his party's sound defeat in parliamentary elections, although he is trying to maintain control of French foreign policy.

The first U.S. aim is to maintain the existing sanctions when the question of renewal arises next month. Then the United States might try an intermediate step of blocking Libyan imports of oil-producing technology before working up to an oil embargo.

Quick action was unlikely, officials said. "Obviously, Europeans will not want to increase sanctions," an official said.

RTC Mr. Christopher's statement, in response to a question by Sen. Alphonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., showed an occasional tendency of the normally cautious lawyer-diplomat to vent a strongly held view even before it has been well-greased in the bureaucracy and among allies.

Mr. Christopher has bitter personal experience of terrorism, having spent his final year as deputy secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter negotiating for the release of U.S. hostages held by the regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran. The episode is considered partly responsible for Mr. Carter's 1980 re-election defeat.

Leveling some of his harshest recent criticism against the current Iranian government, Mr. Christopher branded it an "international outlaw."

"We think that Iran is one of the principal sources of support for terrorist groups around the world. When I was in the Middle East, I found that to be a common judgment among many of the leaders that I met with, that Iran was greatly feared at the present time because of their support for terrorist groups, which they have not in any way disavowed."

On Iran, Mr. Christopher pledged to try to block its attempts to gain loans or credits from international financial institutions such as the World Bank.

"Their determination to acquire weapons of mass destruction leaves Iran as an international outlaw," he said. "Iran does not deserve the support of the World Bank. We are making that view known to our allies and friends."

The United States failed yesterday to prevent World Bank approval of a $165 million loan to Iran to upgrade its electrical power system, the third World Bank loan to Iran in a month.

Despite its pariah status, Iran has been increasingly successful at using its oil wealth to acquire new weaponry and technology as it seeks to become an economic and military power four years after its war with Iraq ended. Russia, despite U.S. protests, has sold submarines to Iran.

Mr. Christopher echoed officials' growing concern about Iran's pursuit of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. The United States recently complained through intermediaries about a mysterious Iranian purchase of oil from Iraq, the subject of a still-tight U.N. embargo.

His comments came amid growing alarm, following the World Trade Center bombing, that the United States and other countries will face an escalation of terrorist attacks. U.S. officials, speaking anonymously, have cited intelligence reports showing terrorists making preparations in areas of the world where they do not normally operate.

The suspects arrested in the World Trade Center bombing don't represent a recognized terror organization, although they have been linked with a spiritual leader of a radical Islamic group believed to be responsible for a wave of terror in Egypt.

That group is believed by Egyptian authorities to draw support from Iran and the Sudan, not Libya.

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