Senators to block confirmation of Libya envoy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four U.S. Senate Democrats said on Thursday they would block the confirmation of President George W. Bush’s nominee to be ambassador to Libya until Tripoli makes good on its promise to fully compensate relatives of victims of terrorist attacks in the 1980s.

Bush moved on Wednesday to fill the post that has been vacant for nearly 35 years, nominating Gene Cretz, currently deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Israel, to be U.S. ambassador to Libya.

The move came despite unresolved issues with Libya over compensation for families of Americans killed in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 and the 1986 bombing of the La Belle discotheque in Berlin that killed two U.S. servicemen and injured 90 others.

The Senate Democrats, led by Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, said no U.S. ambassador should set foot in Tripoli until Libya fulfilled the financial commitments made to the victims’ families.

The Libyan government reached a settlement to pay families of the Lockerbie bombing victims $10 million per victim, but has not paid the final $2 million each that the families believe they are owed.

Libya also entered into a settlement agreement last year with victims of the Berlin bombing.

“Libya must no longer be allowed to drag its feet and the U.S. must not pursue fully normalized diplomatic relations with Libya until they fulfill their legal obligations to American families,” Lautenberg said in a statement.

Lautenberg was joined by fellow New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez and New York Sens. Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer.

“The president believes that Mr. Cretz is the best candidate for this important post and we encourage the Senate to support his nomination,” said Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman. “President Bush has noted the importance of resolving outstanding issues with Libya including for the victims of Pan Am 103 and the La Belle bombings.”

The Cretz nomination followed the delivery of a letter from Bush to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Monday thanking him for Libya’s 2003 decision to scrap weapons of mass destruction programs, but also noted the need to resolve outstanding issues.