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The UK feared Nelson Mandela would give it a Libya problem in 2001, newly-public files show

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    Nat Quinn
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    In 2001, the government of the United Kingdom was trying to figure out what to do about Nelson Mandela, internal documents recently released by that country’s National Archives show.

    Mandela, then 83, had something of a bee in his bonnet, correspondence suggests: he wanted the UK to honour its promise to lift sanctions against¬†Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya. But the UK had no recollection of ever making such a promise.

    In a briefing note for then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, prepared for a meeting with Mandela, advisors told him the elder statesman is¬†“at best, suffering from selective memory and a basic misunderstanding of international law.”

    Mandela may be confusing suggestions or promises he made himself with what the UK government had promised to do, some thought.

    One solution, suggested an advisor to the then foreign secretary, would be to get the government of Thabo Mbeki involved, because it already had “wider concerns about Mandela‚Äôs interventions in international issues”.

    Alleged Lockerbie bomb-maker in U.S. custody

    While in office, Mandela had been one go-between in negotiations between the UK and Gaddafi, which eventually saw two Libyans stand trial for bringing down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988, an act of terror that claimed 270 lives.

    The UK had hailed Mandela for his part in that process. But then things got tricky.

    In early 2001, one of the Lockerbie accused, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was found guilty of the bombing. A couple of months later, the newly released documents show, Mandela was on the phone to Blair.¬†Gaddafi had asked him to negotiate on his behalf, said Mandela, and it was time to keep that promise about lifting sanctions ‚Äď and to let Gaddafi off the legal hook.

    ‚ÄúHe has also said that it is unreasonable for us to expect Libya to pay compensation before sanctions lift and to expect Libya to accept responsibility for the actions of its officials when there is no evidence to show that Libya as a state was responsible for Lockerbie,”¬†wrote alarmed UK foreign office official Mark Sedwill.¬†“He has promised Gaddafi that he will persuade us to set things right.”

    There was, in fact, evidence of Libyan state responsibility for the bombing, and some prospect that Libya could be held financially responsible.

    In a meeting with Blair, notes show, Mandela warned that trying to hold Gaddafi responsible for the bombing in law ‚Äď rather than through a voluntary act of reparation ‚Äď would see¬†Gaddafi fight back. And, said Mandela, he would back Gaddafi in such a fight.

    Going up against someone with Mandela’s international stature would have been an unpalatable prospect, but it never came to that.

    In 2003, in a series of policy reversals that was linked to the ousting of Saddam Hussein but had been long in the making, Gaddafi renounced terrorism and agreed to pay compensation to Lockerbie victims. He had not given the orders for the bombing himself, Gaddafi insisted, but he agreed to pay $2.7 billion in order to have sanctions lifted.

    In that same year,¬†Mandela denounced Blair as¬†an “American foreign minister”¬†for his support of America’s planned invasion of Iraq.

     

    The UK feared Nelson Mandela would give it a Libya problem in 2001, newly-public files show | Business Insider

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