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US says 'premature' to punish Libya

The United States on Monday renewed warnings to Libya not to "lionize" the Lockerbie bomber, but said it was premature to punish the Arab nation which had been reconciling with the West.

world Updated: Aug 25, 2009 01:54 IST

The United States on Monday renewed warnings to Libya not to "lionize" the Lockerbie bomber, but said it was premature to punish the Arab nation which had been reconciling with the West.

Relatives of victims of the 1988 bombing of the Pan Am jetliner have voiced revulsion after hundreds of flag-waving well-wishers greeted the bomber, who was freed in Scotland on compassionate grounds due to his cancer.

"We had made it quite clear to Libyan government, both publicly and privately, that we're going to be watching very closely how they receive this man," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.

The United States told Libya that "if they continue to lionize him in a public fashion, that these kinds of public demonstrations can only have a profoundly negative effect on our relationship," he said.

But pressed by reporters, Kelly said there have not been concrete changes in the US relationship with Libya, which has been returning to the international mainstream since renouncing terrorism and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

"I think it's premature for me to say that we're actually sitting down and considering concrete actions that we would take. But we are watching very closely," he said.

A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that while Thursday's homecoming for bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi was "disgusting," Libya was responding to pressure.

"Thursday's demonstrations could have been a lot worse. There was some attempt by the Libyan authorities to limit the number of people allowed on the tarmac," the official said.

"They are being -- in a real minor-league, pathetic way -- responsive," the official said. "They can do a lot better than they've done and we want to make sure that we give them that opportunity."

The White House said earlier Monday that President Barack Obama had no plans to meet Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi at the United Nations next month, but declined to rule out a chance encounter.

Kadhafi met on Friday with Megrahi, the only person convicted in the bombing that killed 270 people in the air and on the ground in the Scottish town of Lockerbie.