Britain opposed a bid by US president Bill Clinton to expand UN sanctions on Libya under dictator Muammar Gaddafi, while seeking to extradite the Lockerbie bombers, previously secret government papers showed on December 30.
Cabinet Office correspondence, released by the National Archives covering the years 1995 and 1996, showed the UK was concerned at the possible impact of expanded Security Council sanctions on Britain’s $230 million annual exports to Libya, especially of oil-producing equipment.
The prime minister at the time, John Major, wrote to Clinton in late 1995 dissuading him from a new resolution, after the US leader had appealed for Britain’s support.
On December 21, 1988, a bomb exploded on Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing 259 passengers and crew, and 11 people on the ground.
After a US and UK investigation, arrest warrants were issued for two Libyans in 1991.
At the time of the papers, the UK was urging for Libya to surrender the suspects for trial in the US or the UK, while Libya was calling for a “neutral” court to try the men.
The papers show that Britain thought Gaddafi would never hand over the bombing suspects.
A Foreign Office official, Richard Stagg, wrote to Major’s private secretary Roderic Lyne in November 1995: “We should like to try the two accused and secure convictions. But the likelihood of Qadhafi handing them over is negligible.”
Another wrote to Major’s private secretary, Edward Oakden, in February 1996 that the Americans had “returned to the charge” over calls for a new Security Council resolution.