WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The United States is confident an international fund set up with Libya to compensate victims of U.S. and Libyan bombings will be well financed and start paying out soon, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.
An agreement was signed in Tripoli on Thursday to create the Humanitarian Settlement Fund. It aims to resolve compensation cases on both sides, including more than $800 million of outstanding claims from U.S. victims and families from two bombings from the 1980s blamed on Libya.
No details have been released about the potential worth of the fund or who will contribute to it. But it could amount to billions of dollars to cover the claims, including those from insurance companies seeking compensation.
“A lot of work has been done to identify contributors to the fund and I am optimistic that it will be a success,” said Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, who signed the deal on behalf of the U.S. government in Libya. “I am confident that there will be robust sources for this funding,” he told a news conference on arrival in Washington.
Once an already “agreed level” of money is in the fund, it will be distributed to U.S. and Libyan accounts. It is then the responsibility of both governments to pay outstanding claims.
Welch said the agreed amount for the fund was large and contributions would be accepted from any source including companies, countries and others. No U.S. taxpayer funds would be used, however.
“The agreed figure is more than sufficient to deal with the claims,” he added.
U.S. victims covered include those who died in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, and the 1986 attack on a Berlin disco that killed three people and wounded 229. Welch said that amounted to $819 million.
It also covers Libyans killed in 1986 when U.S. planes bombed Tripoli and Benghazi. Forty people died.
Ties between OPEC member Libya and the United States have improved dramatically since 2003, when Libya accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and said it would stop pursuing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Since then, the United States has dropped many sanctions, removed Libya from a terrorism blacklist and restored diplomatic links after decades of enmity.
While ties have improved, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has so far held out on visiting Libya until the compensation issue and human rights concerns were addressed.
In welcoming the deal on Friday, Rice said she hoped to visit Libya soon, but provided no date. “This is coming into fruition after a great deal of work. And I look forward to going to Libya as well,” Rice told reporters traveling with her to Georgia.
The United States has an embassy in Tripoli but an ambassador has not yet arrived because his nomination process was stalled by the U.S. Senate.