Dems to block Libya ambassador nominee

/ Source: The Associated Press

Four Democratic senators say they intend to block the confirmation of President Bush's choice for U.S. ambassador to Libya.

The nomination, Wednesday, of Gene Cretz, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, is a step in restoring normal diplomatic relations after decades of tensions over Libya's alleged involvement in terrorism. The Bush administration has sought to reward Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi since he surprised the world by agreeing to dismantle his country's weapons of mass destruction programs.

But the four Democrats - Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York - say they will invoke a Senate procedure to delay the nomination until Libya pays compensation for terrorist attacks in the 1980s.

Libya was held responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, which claimed 270 lives, most of them American. Gadhafi later agreed to pay $2.7 billion in reparations to the victims' families.

The lawmakers also want the administration to settle with the families of the victims of a 1986 Berlin disco bombing that killed two U.S. troops.

They contend that rewarding Libya will ease the pressure on Gadhafi.

The Bush administration said in May 2006 that it was resuming regular diplomatic relations with Libya for the first time in more than a quarter-century after removing Gadhafi's regime from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Before serving in Tel Aviv, Cretz served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus. Earlier in his career, he served as minister counselor of economic and political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

Cretz received a bachelor's degree from the University of Rochester and a master's degree from State University College at Buffalo.

Return of relations
After Gadhafi came to power in a 1969 coup, Libya turned against the West. Throughout the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, Libya was regarded as a pariah in Washington's view, designated a state sponsor of terrorism, the target of U.S. airstrikes in 1986 and subject to penalties barring American companies from doing business there.

Bush's announcement came on the same day that Libya's Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor convicted of infecting more than 400 children with the AIDS virus. The six, who have been in Libyan custody since 1999, have said they are innocent.

Libyan court officials said they admitted infecting the children, but some of the nurses have since said they confessed under beatings and torture. Bush had asked Libya to free the medics.