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U.S. official: France delaying Lockerbie settlement

Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed over  Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988 -- 270 people died.
Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988 -- 270 people died.

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- France is holding up the settlement for families of the victims of the 1988 Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, because it wants Libya to pay more for the bombing of a French UTA airliner in 1989, a U.S. official said Thursday.

Wednesday, lawyers for Libya and for families of the 270 Pan Am victims agreed on a framework for $2.7 billion in compensation.

As part of the deal, Libya was to send a letter to the United Nations officially accepting responsibility for the bombing and agreeing to pay compensation to each family in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against the country.

But France has "intimidated the Libyans" into delaying the delivery of that letter, a Bush administration official said.

Until the letter is received, the U.N. Security Council will not debate whether to lift sanctions against Libya -- a critical step for victims' families to begin receiving compensation.

The U.S. official said France, as a member of the Security Council, is delaying the U.N. debate until next week, suggesting the French may veto the lifting of sanctions unless their concerns are resolved.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke Thursday with French Foreign Minister Dominque de Villepin about the matter, the U.S. official said, but no details were immediately available.

In 1989, a French UTA Airliner carrying 170 people was bombed over Niger, West Africa. Although French officials blamed Libya, the country never admitted responsibility in that incident. Even so, Libya paid about $30 million to settle claims by families of victims.

A French court ruled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was liable for prosecution in the case, and sentenced six Libyans, including Gadhafi's brother-in-law, in absentia to life in prison.

It is not clear exactly what or how much France wants before moving ahead on the Pan Am deal, and there was no immediate word from French officials on the U.S. claims.

Under the agreement struck Wednesday in the Lockerbie crash, Libya will pay up to $10 million each to families of the 270 people -- 259 on the plane and 11 on the ground -- killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, en route to New York From London.

The payment depends on the fate of sanctions against the country.

If U.N. sanctions were lifted -- as is expected -- each family would receive $4 million.

If U.S. sanctions were lifted, they would each receive another $4 million. And if the U.S. State Department removed Libya from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, each family would receive another $2 million.

If the United States did not make those changes within an eight-month period, each family would receive $1 million.

The U.S. sanctions were imposed in 1992, after Libya refused to turn over two Libyan officials accused of involvement in the bombing.

U.N. sanctions on Libya -- an air and arms embargo -- were suspended in 1999 when Libya handed over two suspects for trial. One man was convicted and the other acquitted in 2001 after a trial in the Netherlands under Scottish law.

Libya has been seeking a full and formal lifting of those sanctions. One diplomat said any full lifting of sanctions would help Libya's case in getting the United States' separate sanctions lifted.

U.S. State Department officials have said that while acceptance of responsibility for the bombing is a critical step toward lifting the U.S. sanctions, the Libyan government still had several conditions to meet before it could be removed from the department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.

CNN Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.


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