Cablegate: Gol Still Bristling Over Victims of Terrorism Legislation, Uta Judgment
OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHTRO #0214/01 0720957
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O P 120957Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3205
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0748
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0435
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 3694
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000214
DEPT FOR NEA/MAG AND L E.O. 12958: DECL: 3/9/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL EPET ECON EFIN ENRG LY
SUBJECT: GOL STILL BRISTLING OVER VICTIMS OF TERRORISM LEGISLATION, UTA JUDGMENT REF: A) TRIPOLI 199, B) TRIPOLI 149 (EXDIS) TRIPOLI 00000214 001.2 OF 002
CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, CDA, Embassy Tripoli, Dept of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1.(C) Summary: Leader Muammar al-Qadhafi, National Oil Corporation Chairman Shukri Ghanem and Deputy Foreign Minister Siala stressed to American interlocutors in recent meetings that the GOL views the recent confluence of the UTA bombing case judgment against Libya and a new U.S. law intended to assist victims of terrorism as serious threats that could jeopardize further development of U.S.-Libya bilateral ties and prompt Libya to expel U.S. oil and gas companies and reduce oil production. End summary.
U.S. OIL COMPANIES TREATED TO BROWBEATING
2.(C) ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva was summoned to Sirte for a half-hour "browbeating" by Leader Muammar al-Qadhafi during his visit to Libya on/about February 24. Country manager Page Maxson told P/E Chief that the entire conversation focused on al-Qadhafi's "personal ire" about the so-called "Lautenberg Amendment" (section 1083 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008) and the USD 6 billion award against Libya in the UTA bombing case, and al-Qadhafi's view that Libya had not been sufficiently compensated for its decision to give up WMD and renounce terrorism. Al-Qadhafi passed a copy of his recent letter to the President on the subject (ref B) to Mulva. Telling Mulva that he and his fellow U.S. oil company CEOs needed to engage members of the U.S. Congress and the Administration on the matter, al-Qadhafi threatened to dramatically reduce Libya's oil production and/or expel out U.S. oil and gas companies. Al-Qadhafi claimed Libya would rather "keep its oil in the ground" and wait for a more favorable overseas investment climate than continue high levels of production in an environment in which sizeable portions of its oil-related assets could be seized.
3.(C) In a related development, Exxon-Mobil Country Manager Phil Goss told P/E Chief that Shukri Ghanem, Chairman of Libya's National Oil Corporation, had chastised him during a meeting on February 25 for nearly an hour on the "dire political signal" represented by the Lautenberg Amendment and the UTA judgment. Ghanem told Goss that U.S. oil and gas companies should "tell Washington" that Libya was serious in its threat to "significantly curtail" its oil production as a means to "penalize the U.S." for Lautenberg and UTA. According to Goss, Ghanem -- a U.S.-educated former Prime Minister -- was emotional in insisting that Libya "would not tolerate" Lautenberg and UTA without taking some retaliatory measures. Privately, Goss questioned whether the GOL could really afford to significantly curb oil output at a time when it is making massive investments in infrastructure as part of the run-up to the 40th anniversary of the military coup that brought al-Qadhafi to power on September 1, 2009. Stressing the erratic nature of decisionmaking in the GOL, Goss was careful not to rule out the possibility that Libya could choose "to do something stupid".
DFM SIALA: LAUTENBERG & UTA JUDGMENT "THREATEN EVERYTHING"
4.(C) In a meeting February 27 on other matters, Deputy Foreign Minister-equivalent Muhammad Siala stressed to CDA the seriousness with which the GOL views the UTA bombing case damages judgment and Lautenberg Amendment. Siala expressed concern that the confluence of the two developments was " ... destroying everything the two sides have built since 2003". U.S. judicial and legislative branch decisions were "pushing Libya into a corner", forcing it to take measures to protect assets that could be exposed to seizure under the Lautenberg Amendment to satisfy terrorism-related claims such as that in the UTA bombing case. In addition, such actions bolstered the position of GOL elements suspicious of re-engagement with the United States.
5.(C) The GOL, Siala said, was urgently examining ways to protect its oil revenues from seizure by U.S. plaintiffs. Claiming that payments to the GOL by U.S. oil and gas companies alone totaled $1 billion per month, Siala said the GOL recently decided to require that these payments be made in Euros rather TRIPOLI 00000214 002.2 OF 002 than in dollars. (Note: ConocoPhillips country manager Page Maxson told P/E Chief total payments by U.S. companies were more likely in the range of $500-750 million per month. End note.) U.S. oil and gas company country managers confirmed that all payments for services must now be in non-dollar currencies; they must also pay their monthly revenue share to the GOL in Euros. In addition, Siala said the GOL was considering whether to require U.S. oil and gas companies to establish wholly-owned European subsidiaries through which financial transactions could be funneled, creating an additional firewall against asset seizure. Stressing that senior GOL leaders viewed Lautenberg and claims issues as "serious threats" to Libya, Siala cautioned that unless some mechanism for mitigating both issues were identified soon, Libya could be forced to slow its oil exports, likely prompting further price spikes in an already jumpy spot market.
6.(C) Siala said the GOL's understanding is that there are 26 outstanding cases before U.S. courts, including Pan Am 103, LaBelle and UTA. The GOL could not afford to be "bled" continuously by high-dollar awards in such cases. Unless the U.S. "took positive steps" to to resolve the Lautenberg and UTA judgment issues, Libya would be forced to divest itself of all investment and assets in the U.S. financial system. (Note: Mustafa Zarti, Deputy Chairman of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), Libya's sovereign wealth fund, subsequently told CDA and P/E Chief that the LIA had all but completely divested itself of U.S. holdings totaling some $9 billion. Conceding that it was difficult for any fund manager not to have a position in the U.S. market, he stressed that it made "no sense" for the LIA to continue to invest in the U.S. if its assets could be attached. End note.) Noting that he had personally played a key role in negotiating the release of Libyan assets frozen in U.S. banks in the sanctions era, Siala said Lautenberg was "much worse" because courts, not the executive branch, could seize assets and held them without paying interest. Because the Lautenberg Amendment provided for seizure before a final judgment had been reached, assets could be held for years without interest.
7.(C) Comment: Elements of the GOL remain convinced that the confluence of the Lautenberg Amendment and the UTA judgment constitute a political signal about limits on the bilateral relationship. There is genuine confusion among some about why such a signal would have been sent so soon after FM Abdulrahman Shalgam's January visit to Washington and in the course of a good patch of bilateral programmatic cooperation, with some perceiving the timing as a deliberate insult. The threat to curb oil production seems unlikely to be carried out in light of Libya's current budget obligations and absolute dependance on oil revenues. The regime has demonstrated in the past, however, that it is prepared to take sizeable risks and incur significant short- to mid-term costs if it feels it has been politically slighted. End comment.
STEVENS 0 03/12/2008