Megrahi PTA was ‘reward’ for Libya’s WMD removal


A former advisor to Tony Blair has claimed that the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) drafted by Blair and Col Gaddafi in the ‘deal in the desert’ was a ‘reward’ for Libya having given up its nuclear weapons.

The claim was made by John MacTernan who is a former special adviser to Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy and who was Tony Blair’s political secretary at the time of the secret deal.

A former advisor to Tony Blair has claimed that the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) drafted by Blair and Col Gaddafi in the ‘deal in the desert’ was a ‘reward’ for Libya having given up its nuclear weapons.

The claim was made by John MacTernan who is a former special adviser to Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy and who was Tony Blair’s political secretary at the time of the secret deal.
Mr MacTernan denied that the PTA was related to the BP oil deal signed that same day saying: “The Prisoner Transfer Agreement was a deal, but it was a deal to recognise the fact that Gaddafi had given up his nuclear weapons.
“If the price for Libya giving up nuclear weapons was that Megrahi served his sentence and died in a Libyan jail the British government would have been happy with that”.{/youtube}

This sensational claim by Mr MacTernan was broadcast last week by the BBC on its Newsnight programme and opens up an entirely different angle into the former Labour leader’s infamous deal in the desert.

Last week after pressure from the Scottish Government, US authorities released a letter sent to Kenny MacAskill by a US state department official making clear that compassionate release of Mr Megrahi was “far preferable” than repatriation under the PTA.  Statements from the US have given the impression that US authorities were completely unaware of the reason for Tony Blair’s 2007 ‘deal in the desert’.

However, given the very close nature of the US/UK relationship in negotiating and overseeing the dismantling of Libya’s nuclear capability then these new ‘nuclear reward’ claims by a man who was one of Tony Blair’s most senior advisors at the time will call into question the USA’s insistence that it knew nothing of the PTA negotiated by Blair.

The events leading up to the removal of Libya’s WMD were set in motion in March 2003 when Libyan intelligence agents contacted the UK and explained that Libya was prepared to give up its weapons of mass destruction in order to rejoin the international community.  There then followed 9 months of secret talks between the Libyan leader Col Gaddafi, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

On 19 December that same year Libya publicly declared and then renounced its clandestine nuclear weapons program.

That day President George Bush said:
“With today’s announcement by its leader, Libya has begun the process of rejoining the community of nations…. Its government, in response to the United Nations Security Council Lockerbie demands, has already renounced all acts of terrorism and pledged cooperation in the international fight against terrorism.”

President Bush promised that these steps would see benefits to Libya and an end to “old hostilities” saying:
“As the Libyan government takes these essential steps and demonstrates its seriousness, its good faith will be returned….“Great Britain shares this commitment, and Prime Minister Blair and I welcome today’s declaration by Colonel Ghadafi.   Because Libya has a troubled history with America and Britain, we will be vigilant in ensuring its government lives up to all its responsibilities. Yet, as we have found with other nations, old hostilities do not need to go on forever.”

The UK and US administrations continued to work very closely, with both sending experts to Libya as Gaddafi’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons were dismantled.  By September 2004 a US State Department press release announced that the dismantling programme was essentially complete.

The press release explained that Libya, the United Kingdom and the United States had established a Trilateral Steering and Cooperation Committee to discuss remaining issues.

The State Department said of the committee:
“On behalf of the United States, Under Secretary of State John Bolton has been meeting and talking with his counterparts from the United Kingdom and Libya, and Under Secretary Bolton will lead this process for the United States.”

By the beginning of 2005 the US had ended economic sanctions, allowed U.S. firms to negotiate contracts for their re-entry and upgraded their diplomatic relationship with Libya.

Crucially the State Department briefing stated clearly that:
“The United States and the United Kingdom did not offer specific promises or rewards to the Libyans…. The United States, the United Kingdom, and Libya have worked together as a team to eliminate Libya’s WMD programs and to begin the process of improving relations between Washington and Tripoli.”

This was underlined in another official US State Department document that again emphasised the close cooperation between the UK and the US:
“It is also worth emphasizing how cooperatively we have been working with our British allies in this important project. From the very beginning — in the secret Libyan discussions in 2003 — the U.S. and UK have worked together very closely. The successes achieved to date stand as a testament to our two governments’ shared counter-proliferation goals and firm commitment to the Libyan elimination and verification effort. Our partnership in this project has been crucial to its success. 

“The United States, the United Kingdom, and Libya have worked together as a team to eliminate Libya’s WMD programs and to normalize relations between Washington and Libya.”

By May 2006 the US had re-established full diplomatic ties with the Libyans, a new U.S. Liaison Office had been set up in Libya and a Libyan Interests Section was established in Washington to facilitate more extensive diplomatic relations.

Given these newly forged US/Libya ties, it seems highly unlikely that the Libyans would have jeopardised their international rehabilitation and trade benefits by keeping a PTA deal involving Megrahi a secret from the US.  In actual fact it is reasonable to assume that such a deal would have been impossible to keep secret.

It is also reasonable to assume that the US was not only aware of the negotiations between Gaddafi and Blair ….. but actually countenanced them.

Something for nothing?
The claim by Mr MacTernan that the PTA was recognition by the UK of Libya’s removal of her WMDs may be partly true.  However it seems unlikely that the UK government would offer the return to Libya of the UK’s most infamous mass murderer (victims mostly American) and seek nothing in return.

The question is though, is there anything that links Libya’s abandonment of WMDs, the ‘deal in the desert’ and the signing of the BP oil contract?

Well yes, in the shape of another key player Sir Mark Allen.

Sir Mark was in charge of the Middle East and Africa department at MI6 until he left in 2004 to become an adviser to BP. 

The former Oxford graduate is also the man credited with helping to persuade the Libyans to abandon their development of weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

It is known Sir Mark lobbied then justice secretary Jack Straw to speed up negotiations over the prisoner transfer agreement to avoid jeopardising a major trade deal with Libya.  He made two phone calls to Mr Straw – who later let slip Sir Mark’s involvement to a select committee.

Mr Straw said: “I knew Sir Mark from my time at the Foreign Office – he has an extensive knowledge of Libya and the Middle East and I thought he was worth listening to.”

If Mr MacTernan’s ‘nuclear’ bombshell was an an attempt at diverting attention away from BP’s involvement in the deal in the desert it hasn’t succeeded.  It has served only to invite scrutiny of the UK, US, Libyan negotiations from December 2003 and draw attention to the very close diplomatic relations that were ongoing.

Far from separating the PTA from the BP contract, Mr MacTernan’s statement seems to have drawn them closer together.

Mr MacTernan’s admission that Megrahi was central to the PTA also causes difficulty for the ‘Scottish Labour’ group at Holyrood whose spokesman Richard Baker has already stated that a PTA involving only one prisoner would be unacceptable.

Repatriation under the PTA was conditional on Mr Megrahi dropping his appeal against conviction.  The SNP has always opposed the Prisoner Transfer Agreement and the subsequent PTA application by Mr Megrahi was rejected by Kenny Macaskill who instead granted Al Megrahi compassionate release as a result of his terminal cancer.

Finally, below is a summarised chronology of events leading up to the summer of 2007.  Pay attention to the little known tragedy that happened 9 months after Lockerbie.

  • December 21, 1988: Pan Am Flight 103 en route from London to New York explodes over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people on board and 11 bystanders on the ground
    In November 1991, investigators in the United States and United Kingdom name two Libyan officials as prime suspects in the bombing.  A tiny fragment of a green coloured circuit board was discovered in a forest amidst wreckage strewn over several kilometres and was said by the FBI’s Thomas Thurman to have been part of a timer.  Testimony from a Maltese Shopkeeper led to two Libyan men being charged with the atrocity.
  • September 19, 1989: The French airliner UTA Flight 772 bound for Paris explodes, killing all 171 people on board.
    Wreckage of the aircraft was sent to France for forensic examination, where traces of the explosive pentrite were found in the forward cargo hold. Pieces of a dark grey Samsonite suitcase covered in a layer of pentrite was determined by the investigators to be the source of the explosion. Also found was a tiny fragment of a green-coloured printed circuit board which was said to have been from a timing device. This fragment was identified by the FBI’s Thomas Thurman as being manufactured by the Taiwanese firm “TY”, which had supplied a number of such devices to Libya.  The investigators obtained a confession from a Congolese opposition figure, this confession led to charges being brought against six Libyans.
  • January 31, 2001 Megrahi is found guilty of planting the bomb that brought down Pan Am 103
  • December 19, 2003: Libya’s Foreign Ministry publicly renounces the country’s WMD programs
  • January 18, 2004: U.S. and British officials arrive in Libya to begin elimination and removal of WMD designs and stockpiles.
  • February 26, 2004: The United States lifts its Libya travel ban. U.S. citizens are allowed to make travel-related expenditures in Libya, and businesses may enter negotiations to re-acquire pre-sanctions holdings inside Libya
  • March 23, 2004: Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns meets with Libyan officials, including Gaddafi, in Tripoli. A State Department spokesperson calls the meetings “constructive” and reflective of the “step-by-step normalization” of relations between Libya and the United States. Burns is the most senior U.S. official to visit Libya since 1969.
  • June 28, 2004: Announcing that Washington and Tripoli will resume direct diplomatic ties, Burns inaugurates a new U.S. Liaison Office in Libya.
  • October 11, 2004: European Union foreign ministers lift a 20 year-old arms embargo on Libya, allowing EU countries to export arms and other military equipment to that country.
  • May 15, 2006: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announces the U.S. establishment of full diplomatic relations with Libya.
  • June 26, 2006: The United Kingdom and Libya sign a “Joint Letter of Peace and Security,” in which London pledges to seek UN Security Council action if another state attacks Libya with chemical or biological weapons and pledges to aid Libya in strengthening its defence capabilities.
  • May, 2007 Tony Blair meets Col Gaddafi in the Libyan desert and strikes a secret deal to return Megrahi to Libya. BP sign an oil contract with Libya that same day.
  • June, 2007 Alex Salmond exposes Blair’s secret deal
  • July 25, 2007: France and Libya sign a memorandum of understanding on nuclear energy cooperation.  The agreement outlines a plan for the eventual construction of a nuclear desalination plant.

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