When Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi comes to the United Nations next month, he wants to pitch his special air-conditioned tent on a lawn in New Jersey, a proposal that has outraged neighbors and added insult to injury in a state that lost 33 residents in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
Residents of the New York suburb are riled by reports that Gadhafi may stay in a Bedouin tent on a Libyan-owned estate there and would prefer that he set up shop elsewhere, said Rep. Steve Rothman, whose congressional district includes Englewood.
"Gadhafi is a dangerous dictator whose hands are covered with the blood of Americans and our allies," Rothman said, promising there would be "hell to pay" if the State Department violated a deal barring the dictator from staying at the Libyan estate.
Department officials said Monday that no decision has been made on where Gadhafi will set up shop.
Hero's welcome in Libya
A bomb placed by Libyan intelligence blew Flight 103 out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing all 259 people aboard and another 11 on the ground. Gadhafi gave the cancer-stricken architect of that attack a hero's welcome last week after he was given compassionate release from a Scottish prison.
Rothman was mayor of Englewood 26 years ago when the city learned the Libyan mission to the United Nations had bought the Palisade Avenue estate. Local officials worked out a deal with the State Department limiting its use to the recreational activities by the ambassador and his family, Rothman said. The Libyans don't pay taxes on it.
Gadhafi's upcoming U.N. appearance culminates a years-long effort to rehabilitate the Libyan strongman's international image, which has included denouncing weapons of mass destruction. He has ruled the oil-rich North African nation since 1969.
"This is what happens when you have the path of appeasement," Susan Cohen, a resident of Cape May Court House whose 20-year-old daughter died in the Pan Am bombing. "He's getting everything he wants, and I guess that includes a trip to the state of New Jersey, which certainly doesn't need this."
Logistics and security concerns
In Washington, U.S. officials said Englewood was one option the Libyans were looking at to pitch the tent after their request to set it up New York's Central Park had been denied because of logistics and security concerns.
"We have been talking to the U.N. about this issue, we've been talking to the New York City authorities about the issue of where Mr. Gadhafi is going to stay, but no decisions have been made," State spokesman Ian Kelly said Monday. "No decision has been made about where anybody's going to pitch a tent."
Nicole DiCocco, spokeswoman for the Libyan Embassy in Washington, confirmed that the Englewood estate is a possible site for Gadhafi to stay. She said that he would use the tent for entertainment, not live in it, but that it hasn't been confirmed where he'll actually stay.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg has asked the State Department to limit Gadhafi's travel in the U.S. to the U.N. headquarters district.