Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is still operating at least five terrorist training camps and has made only `cosmetic' concessions to Western demands that he get out of the terrorism business, according to senior U.S. officials.
Consequently, the Bush administration has begun lobbying the United Nations to impose economic sanctions againt Libya that U.S. officials hope would stay in force even if Gadhafi surrenders the Libyan agents suspected in midair bombings of two Western jetliners several years ago.
The officials said the administration is not seeking Gadhafi's ouster and has no immediate plans to attack Libya militarily if Gadhafi fails to comply with U.N. demands.
In interviews, the officials said the administration believes it can build on the diplomatic momentum of charges tying Libya to the bombings of a Pan American flight in 1988 and a French UTA flight in 1989 to invigorate a decade-long campaign to force an end to Gadhafi's 22-year history of instigating, bankrolling and giving haven to terrorists.
One government official said Gadhafi `has been making a strong effort to hide his hand' in terrorism since November when two Libyan intelligence officers were indicted in the United States and Britain for the Pan Am bombing. For instance, Gadhafi closed five large terrorist training camps publicly identified by the State Department in a report on Libya last November that was based on intelligence information. But a senior State Department official said Libya is keeping at least five other camps in operation.
`The terrorists in the camps that were closed were moved to other training facilities, ones that were not listed,' said another administration official.
According to the State Department, the closed camps--Al Qalah, the Seven April Training Camp, the Sidi Bilal Port Facility, Bin Gashir and Ras al Hilal--had been used to train members of the Abu Nidal Organization as well as dissidents from Africa, Asia and Latin America and Palestinian terrorist groups. Abu Nidal's group, which the State Department considers `the most dangerous terrorist organization in existence,' still has headquarters in Tripoli and continues to train terrorists at other camps in the desert country, officials here said.
While Libya has not been tied directly to any recent terrorist attacks, and while international terrorism generally has appeared to wane in recent months, U.S. officials said Gadhafi continues to provide training and funds to terrorist groups around the world, from radicals in the Philippines to the Provisional Irish Republican Army.
One official said Gadhafi has temporarily scaled back relations with some terrorist groups--in some cases asking them to leave Libya--in hopes of reducing Western pressure. But, he said, such steps `could easily be reversed.'
U.S. officials said another cosmetic gesture by Gadhafi was the appointment in November of a new intelligence chief, Col. Youssef Abdel Kader al-Dobri. He was named to replace Ibrahim Bishari, alleged overseer of Libyan terrorism in the 1980s, but officials say Bishari is still an active, behind-the-scenes player in the Libyan intelligence structure.
Last November, the United States and Britain indicted two Libyan intelligence officers--Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi, 39, and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, 35--on charges of planting a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988. The French government joined in calls for enforcement of arrest orders in the UTA case against four higher-ranking Libyan intelligence officers, including Gadhafi's brother-in-law, Abdullah Senoussi.
Last month, the three allies were unable to persuade a majority of the U.N. Security Council to vote for sanctions and had to settle for a resolution calling on Libya to cooperate in ending international terrorism and bringing to justice those responsible for the deaths of 441 people in the two airplane bombings.
But some diplomatic sources at the United Nations believe that Third World countries on the council, who argued earlier that Gadhafi should be given a chance to comply voluntarily, now feel he is stalling and are more receptive to the idea of sanctions.
U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali sent a deputy, Vasiliy Safronchuk, to Tripoli last weekend to try to work out a mechanism for Libya to comply. Safronchuk was expected this week to fly to Geneva to confer with Boutros-Ghali, then return to Tripoli.
If Safronchuk's mission fails, the United States, Britain and France hope to get the 15-nation Security Council to impose mandatory penalties that could include cutting off international air links with Libya, an arms embargo and a drastic reduction of Libyan diplomatic missions and business firms that Gadhafi uses in other countries as a front for terrorism.
Countries regarded as possibly retaining doubts about a tough sanctions resolution are China, which as a permanent Security Council member can veto any resolution, and Morocco, India, Zimbabwe, Cape Verde and Ecuador.
U.S. officials acknowledge that many countries, among them such key U.S. allies in the Middle East as Egypt, are concerned about the political vacuum that could result if sanctions and other pressures led to Gadhafi's ouster. But U.S. policymakers regard Gadhafi's survival as far less important than ending Libya's role in terrorism. As one put it: `If he can do the things we are insisting on and still survive, good luck to him.'
In that respect, U.S. policy differs from the administration's attitude toward another radical Mideast adversary, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Since the Persian Gulf War last year, President Bush has said repeatedly that he wants Saddam out and that the United States will not relax pressure on Iraq as long as Saddam remains in power.
U.S. officials said Libya, unlike such other terrorism-supporting Muslim states as Iraq, Syria and Iran, is not powerful enough to become a dominant force in the region. The United States, they said, does not fear an extension of Gadhafi's political influence but is determined to halt the terrorism that Libya is said to have helped instigate on at least three continents.
According to recent intelligence reports, Gadhafi has been trying since last fall to hide Scud missiles and fortifying antiaircraft installations, apparently a precaution against air strikes such as those that President Ronald Reagan launched against him in 1986.
Although U.S. officials said they would not rule out military action in the future, they stressed that U.S. policy, at this stage, is committed to working in concert with other countries.
Many diplomats have warned that Western moves against Gadhafi could ignite Arabs to rise in his support throughout North Africa. However, U.S. officials noted that the same arguments were made about using force against Saddam before the Persian Gulf War, and widespread populist uprisings on Iraq's behalf never materialized.
A more serious concern, U.S. officials acknowledged, is the impact that an upheaval in Libya could have on the economics of Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, all of which depend heavily on the earnings sent home by their nationals working in Libya. The potential economic effects are especially important for Egypt, which has about 1 million citizens in Libya and engages in extensive cross-border commerce with Libya.