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Cablegate: Codel Mccain Raises Megrahi with Libyan Leader

VZCZCXRO2594
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHTRO #0661/01 2261237
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P R 141237Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5157
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1118
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0791
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 0560
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 5698

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000661

SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/MAG, EUR/WE, H, AND L

E.O. 12958: DECL: 8/14/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM UK LY
SUBJECT: CODEL MCCAIN RAISES MEGRAHI WITH LIBYAN LEADER

REF: A) 07 TRIPOLI 656; B) 07 TRIPOLII 695 TRIPOLI 00000661 001.2 OF 002 CLASSIFIED BY: Joan Polaschik, Charge d'Affaires, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1.(C) Summary: In an August 14 meeting, CODEL McCain told Libyan Leader Muammar al-Qadhafi and National Security Advisor Muatassim al-Qadhafi that the possible release of convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi from a Scottish prison is a very sensitive issue for the American public, and strongly urged the Libyan Goverment to handle the release - if it happens - in a way that would strengthen the growing relationship between our two countries, rather than hinder its progress. While Muatassim al-Qadhafi bristled at the message, Muammar al-Qadhafi calmly made the point that Megrahi was, in the eyes of several international organizations, a "political captive" who was gravely ill. Both Qadhafis likened Megrahi's case to that of the Bulgarian nurses, who were released from a Libyan prison last year, and also argued that the Libyan Government could not control popular reaction to Megrahi's potential release. We believe the CODEL's message was helpful to our goal of laying down a marker for a measured GOL response to Megrahi's release. Other topics discussed in the meetings will be reported septel. End Summary.

MUATASSIM INSISTS MEGRAHI IS INNOCENT

2.(C) During an August 14 meeting with National Security Advisor Muatassim al-Qadhafi, CODEL McCain conveyed the message that the decision that is expected to be made in Scotland next week regarding the release of Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi will be very sensitive to the American public. The Senators emphasized that, as friends, the United States and Libya must address the issue openly. Senator Lieberman explained that Libya's official response to the possible release of Megrahi would influence bilateral relations - positively or negatively - and could represent a step backwards if Libya offers Megrahi a hero's welcome. Muatassim reacted defensively, telling the CODEL that Megrahi "is an innocent man, and we believe it." Muatassim then compared Megrahi's case to that of the Bulgarian nurses convicted in Libya of intentionally infecting 400 Libyan children with the HIV virus, arguing that they had been welcomed in Bulgaria as returning heroes even though they had been sentenced to life in prison (Ref A). He stressed that the Libya-EU MOU involving the transfer of the Bulgarian nurses specified that they would complete their life sentences in prison. "They were released even before they arrived at the airport," he lamented (Ref B). Regarding Megrahi's potential homecoming, Muatassim stressed that the people govern Libya and as such, "they will express their will in whichever way they like." He stated that Libyan officials "cannot stop the people if they celebrate in freedom."

QADHAFI SAYS THE LIBYAN PEOPLE WILL DECIDE HOW TO RESPOND ON MEGRAHI

3.(C) Stressing that they were raising the issue in the strongest spirit of friendship and respect, the Senators addressed the potential release of Megrahi with Muammar al-Qadhafi during their follow-on meeting with him. Senator Lieberman forecasted that a hero's welcome for Megrahi would represent the first crisis in the renewed U.S.-Libya relationship and that both sides would have to work hard to ensure that it does not damage the relationship. The elder Qadhafi's reaction to the Senators' comments regarding Megrahi was much more measured than that of his son, though his words were similar. He began by commenting that all of the decisions made by international organizations and groups - including the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the African Union - regarding Megrahi described him as a "political captive," who had taken the fall - in a political verdict - in place of the "real culprit." Stating that Megrahi was at the disposal of the U.S. and UK, he calmly argued that Megrahi had not been given the chance to see a doctor regularly and was now "gravely ill," explaining that he was serving out his death sentence in the most literal sense.

4.(C) Qadhafi, who remained relaxed throughout Senator Lieberman's remarks and pointedly shushed Muatassim when he tried to intervene, told the CODEL that he understood the Senators' need to speak on behalf of the American people. Noting that the Libyan Government also must be responsive to public opinion, Muammar al-Qadhafi proceeded to compare Megrahi's case to the Bulgarian nurses, reiterating his son's remark that the nurses were released from their sentences even before they reached the airport to return to their home country. Calling them murderers, he remarked in a tone of disbelief that they were welcomed home by the Bulgarian President himself. Qadhafi emphasized that if Megrahi was released, neither he nor any other Libyan official could control the manner in which the Libyan people reacted. "They could even demonstrate against me," TRIPOLI 00000661 002.2 OF 002 he said. Lieberman noted Qadhafi's views but stressed that he hoped the two sides could manage this issue. Qadhafi ended the conversation by stating that "we have to accept the challenge and face it."

CODEL PRESS STATEMENT

5.(SBU) The CODEL later echoed these remarks in its August 14 press availability. (Note: The CODEL's written statement, delivered by Senator McCain, was sent by email to NEA/MAG and NEA/PPD. End note.) In his remarks, Senator Lieberman further underscored the Megrahi message, noting that this "possibly could be the first crisis in our bilateral relationship." He had prefaced this statement with very positive comments about the bilateral relationship that praised Libya's decision to abandon its WMD programs, highlighted ongoing cooperation, and expressed hope for the possibility of expanded security cooperation.

COMMENT

6.(C) Comment: To the best of our collective knowledge, this is the first time that any U.S. official has raised Megrahi's potential release with Muammar al-Qadhafi. Senior MFA contacts had strongly urged CDA to encourage the CODEL not to raise the issue with Qadhafi, arguing that the issue was extremely sensitive and could have negative repercussions for the relationship. (Note: We had advised the CODEL that this was indeed a sensitive issue, but that it was entirely their call as to whether and how to raise the issue. End note.) Judging from his body language, Qadhafi did not appear to take any immediate offense to the discussion, and the meeting continued for another 10-15 minutes without any discernable change in tone.

7.(C) Comment continued: Both Qadhafis seemed to appreciate the need for the CODEL to share the views of the American people, and made it clear that Libya's response to any potential Megrahi release would in turn be determined by the Libyan people. Left unspoken, of course, was the huge role that the Libyan Government plays in orchestrating popular opinion and churning out the masses for public rallies. We believe the CODEL's message was very helpful to our goal of laying down the marker for a measured GOL response to Megrahi's release, and it could be a useful buildling block for any future messages from the Department.

8.(U) CODEL McCain did not have the opportunity to clear this message prior to departure. POLASCHIK

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