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Public Statements

Libyan Claims Resolution Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

LIBYAN CLAIMS RESOLUTION ACT -- (Senate - July 31, 2008)

Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of S. 3370, introduced earlier today by Senators Biden, Lugar, Lautenberg, Warner, Leahy, and Levin.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will report the bill by title.

The legislative clerk read as follows:

A bill (S. 3370) to resolve pending claims against Libya by United States nationals, and for other purposes.

There being no objection, the Senate proceeded to consider the bill.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, today, with the passage of the Libyan Claims Resolution Act, the United States moves closer to a comprehensive resolution of all outstanding claims by U.S. nationals against Libya for its support for terrorism over several decades. These claims include, most notably, the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 innocent human beings in December 1988 and the bombing of the LaBelle discotheque in Berlin in April 1986 in which two American military personnel were killed and scores more injured. There are many other pending claims involving attacks against Americans that are attributable to Libya. These, too, will be resolved by this legislation. Although less well known in the public's memory, they were no less devastating to their victims and no less an affront to humanity.

For several months now, the Bush administration has been negotiating with the Government of Libya on a comprehensive settlement to compensate American victims of Libyan terror. The State Department has reported to us in recent days that an agreement has been reached but has not yet been signed. I commend the fine effort of Assistant Secretary of State David Welch and Deputy Legal Adviser Jonathan Schwartz, who led the U.S. delegation in these very difficult negotiations. Signature on the agreement awaits action by Congress, and that is what we are doing today.

The agreement will provide full compensation to pay settlements already reached in the Pan Am 103 and LaBelle cases and enough funds to ensure that every American claimant in these cases involving Libyan terrorism will receive financial compensation comparable to the Pan Am 103 and LaBelle settlements. No U.S. taxpayer money will be used to pay these claims. The regime in Libya is notoriously unpredictable, so there is a chance that the deal could fall apart. But there is reason to believe that the Libyan leader, Colonel Qadhafi, has decided it is in his interest to settle all of these cases, rather than let them languish in court for years or decades, at the expense of progress in the Libyan-American relationship. Should the government of Libya change its position and fail to provide the complete funding, the victims will retain their full rights to proceed with their legal challenges.

But before Libya is willing to sign the agreement, it wants legal assurances that upon providing the full funding it will be immune from further legal repercussions stemming from these cases. This legislation, if signed into law by the President, provides such assurances, allowing the deal to go forward. It authorizes the Secretary of State to work with the Libyans to set up the funding mechanism. It assures the Libyans that if and only if full compensation has been paid to all American victims of Libyan terrorism, they will be immune from further claims of this nature. And it assures the American claimants that their lawsuits will not be extinguished unless the funding promised by the agreement is provided.

If this bill is approved by the House, Congress will have joined with the President to solve an issue of national and international importance, while protecting the interests of its nationals who have valid claims against Libya. Under the Constitution, there is no question the executive and the legislative branches have the authority to work together in this manner to settle claims so as to help the hundreds of American claimants who will benefit from this initiative. This cooperative effort--and the prompt bipartisan support for it--is also a good example of how the two branches should work together to advance our national interests.

I wish to be clear about what my support for this legislation means and does not mean. It is clearly in the interest of the United States to develop better relations with Libya. Libya is an important country as a gateway between Europe and Africa, which shares a border with the Darfur region of Sudan, and is a member of OPEC. Colonel Qadhafi appears to have made a break with his past support for terrorism and efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. That is good news for Libya, for the United States, and for the world.

It also is a powerful demonstration that diplomatic engagement, backed up with sanctions and incentives, can change the behavior of countries whose policies threaten our interests. There is a lesson in here for more productive approaches we could have taken earlier with other problematic countries. It is important for countries like Iran, North Korea, and Syria that pursue malevolent policies to see that there is a roadmap back into the international community if they modify their behavior. In short, the model of normalization with Libya, if applied to other cases, can prove that our goal is conduct change, not regime change and can actually produce that change.

For these reasons, I support the nascent Libyan-American agreement to comprehensively settle all outstanding American claims against Libyan terrorism. Libya's renunciation of its weapons of mass destruction programs and its previous support for terrorism is something all of us should welcome. I support the carefully calibrated movement toward the full normalization of bilateral relations.

But it should be underscored that this legislation does not exonerate or excuse Libya for its despicable and cowardly support for terrorism. I hope that the agreement can provide a modicum of justice and closure for the victims of Libyan terrorism and their families. But it is small consolation indeed and will not bring back the lives that have been lost, nor undo the suffering endured by survivors.

Neither does today's legislation indicate a shift in my views of the fundamental nature of the Qadhafi regime. Yes, Americans are interested in Libya's external behavior. But we are also concerned about the human rights conditions within Libya. Though his support for terrorists has ended, Qadhafi's Libya remains a police state that brooks no political opposition. Four decades after coming to power in a military coup, Qadhafi continues to rule by personal fiat. He may have had a change of mind about Libya's policies, but I doubt that it has been matched by a change of heart.

It is critical that the Bush administration pursue a broader engagement with the Libyan people and civil society. This relationship must be about more than securing contracts for American oil companies. We have learned the hard way that our vital interests can be threatened by relationships that ignore the huge deficiencies in governance and basic freedoms in many Middle Eastern countries and are based exclusively on commercial and security interests. So I am disappointed that this comprehensive claims settlement agreement is not accompanied by a comprehensive plan to engage Libyan society. I urge the Bush administration to put as much energy into developing such a plan as it did in the negotiations for a claims settlement.

For more than 4 years, I have called for the release of Fathi Eljahmi, a courageous Libyan democracy advocate with serious health problems whose only crime was to speak truth to power. Though the change in direction in Libyan foreign policy in the last few years is as commendable as it is remarkable, Mr. Eljahmi's continuing captivity is a reminder that basic fundamental freedoms such as rule of law and the freedom of speech do not exist inside Libya. As I have made it clear to Colonel Qadhafi, the future of the Libyan-American relationship, at least as far as this Senator is concerned, will be affected by the Libyan Government's treatment of Mr. Eljahmi. I urge the Libyan Government to release him unconditionally and immediately, and to end the harassment of his family.

Engagement does not mean that we surrender our values. Engagement means we are in a stronger position to advance our values and to secure real change. I urge the Bush administration to use this opportunity to assert America's interests in a broader relationship that will put Libya on a more sustainable, and more democratic, path.


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