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  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 19,131     71
     
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Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 080 - (28/07/10)

Reopening the Lockerbie Pandora’s Box in the Gulf of Mexico
The BP sea floor gusher in the Gulf of Mexico has spewed out more than crude petroleum; the controversy over BP’s handling of the disaster has clashed with news that BP has won concessions to drill the floor of the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya in the next few weeks. Some US senators could not resist the political posturing potential of this story, inadvertently reopening the ‘can of worms’ that is the Lockerbie bombing. Some US senators smell the opportunity for some smug political gestures suggesting that a Scottish justice minister released the man responsible for what had been the worse terrorist attack against a US target before 9/11.

The inquiry is being led by Senator John Kerry and other senators who have tried to build ‘environmentalist’ credentials, and for whom a good vs. evil battle featuring Big Oil as the culprit, is expected to return some political points. The committee said that it wants to question British ministers about the al-Megrahi case, including former British justice secretary Jack Straw and his Scottish counterpart, Kenny MacAskill. Neither has shown any enthusiasm for such a suggestion clearly considering it inappropriate to them as elected representatives of another nation.

The senators, evidently believe that Abdel Basset al-Megrahi acted alone – seeing as nobody else was ever convicted for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. As Newnations noted almost a year ago, commenting on al-Megrahi’s release from a Scottish prison on humanitarian grounds, Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Minister, of the Scottish Nationalist Party, decided to release al-Megrahi, not as a favor to Gordon Brown or BP, or any other British oil interest. He did so, because the evidence against al-Megrahi was weak and some high-ranking Scottish police officers working on the case had always expressed reservations about the extent of Libya’s involvement in Lockerbie.

The media has also been keen to point out that former prime minister Tony Blair has been visiting colonel Qadhafi to discuss BP related business, interpreting this as further evidence of collusion in the Megrahi case, contributing to the vilification of BP in the United States. Doubtless, under the leadership of Tony Blair, the UK did indeed make deals with Libya to secure oil and gas exploration rights, but the actual deal, to release – or create the conditions for a release of al-Megrahi was actually made in 2004, when Blair and president Bush announced, proudly that Libya had renounced the pursuit of ‘weapons of mass destruction’, setting the path for its rehabilitation.

Far from being tied to any BP deal, al-Megrahi’s lawyers were pushing for an appeal until May of 2009; they stopped when they were advised that a compassionate release would be more likely greater if the appeal were abandoned. In other words, MacAskill’s decision to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds – the Libyan is said to have contracted prostate cancer while in prison – pre-empted an appeals trial, which could have shown the entire case against al-Megrahi to be very weak, raising fresh questions about responsibility for Pan Am 103.

Political opportunists in the United States have inadvertently re-opened Pandora’s Box, though they do not seem very interested in actually uncovering any new evidence in the case; for them, Libya and al-Megrahi are the undisputed guilty parties in the Lockerbie disaster; they have no interest in finding out who was actually responsible or their motives. Were they actually interested in justice for Lockerbie victims, the senators would be concentrating on the evidence rather than the fact that al-Megrahi is still alive.

Moreover, while there is no question that Blair was very keen to make deals with Libya, making it no secret of working in favor of BP to secure drilling and exploration rights, often meeting the former CEO of BP John Browne at 10 Downing Street. Blair was no longer prime minister when al-Megrahi was released, nor had the Libyan been diagnosed with cancer while Blair was in power.

Al-Megrahi, it is important to note, was released by the Scottish government of Alex Salmond, not exactly a political ally of the British Labor party and then prime minister Gordon Brown. Certainly, Blair’s Libya connections or al-Megrahi’s release have nothing to do with deep water drilling oil spills; the story, though, is very useful in helping to demonize BP in American public opinion and some US senators are exploiting it.

The new British prime minister, David Cameron, who criticized the decision to release al-Megrahi (who is still alive, which accounts for the sense of embarrassment and the potential for exploitation by detractors) last year, has denied that there was any deal to allow BP to drill for oil off the Libyan coast in exchange for al-Megrahi. “BP should not gain from Libyan oil at the expense of the victims of terrorism”, said Sen. Charles Schumer. BP officials questioned by US senators conceded there had been some kind of proposed BP-Libya prisoner exchange deal, but it is odd that while the senators advised BP to abandon plans to drill off the Libyan coast, they did not actually wonder about the doubts in the al-Megrahi case and the reasons for which the Scottish justice system allowed it to happen. Indeed, BP certainly did lobby the British government on Libya who were careful to point out that they had no jurisdiction. The fact remains that al-Megrahi was released by Scotland, a seperate political entity.

As for the deep drilling activity itself, BP is expected to start drilling into the seabed in the Gulf of Sirte at some 500 km. from the Sicilian coast over the next few weeks. BP will drill in five areas as stipulated under a USD 900 million-dollar deal stipulated in 2007 with BP. The drilling will occur at a depth of 1700 meters, 200 more than the Deepwater Horizon, off the coast of Louisiana. Apart from the political concerns, BP will also have to face growing environmental ones.

Italian political leaders, who have finally found an issue on which they all agree, are concerned that BP is incurring greater risks than it did in Louisiana. A spill in the Mediterranean, they say, would be more dangerous than the one in the Gulf of Mexico because the currents are far less strong and its ‘pond’ like nature would make recovery from a massive spill far slower. Even before any spills occur, there is now more pressure on international bodies to intervene to prevent deep water drilling. Norway has imposed restrictions on deep water drilling in the North Sea, while president Obama has imposed a moratorium on deep-water oil exploration. There are few existing mechanisms that the Mediterranean governments can use to stop BP and Libya.

Libya has ratified the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) as part of the Barcelona Convention on the protection of the Mediterranean, but this is unlikely to ruffle too many feathers in Tripoli. Indeed, the chairman of Libya’s National Oil Company, Shokry Ghanem, has urged BP to start drilling as soon as possible. In addition, Ghanem hinted that BP’s stock price, which has dropped by half over a year ago, makes it a viable investment for Libya’s sovereign fund; the huge costs of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the inevitable legal repercussions may start to make the possibility of Libyan investment more interesting to BP executives.

Ultimately, BP will have to handle all the risk of dealing with Libya and any lobbying it has done in order to win concessions to drill for oil in Libya. The political leaders can posture to gain some short-term visibility, but BP will be left to clean up the mess, and not just in Lousiana. As Megrahi continues to live, however, he starts to pose a problem for Libya’s relations with the United States. The political farce staged by some US senators fell rather flat when BP announced that Bob Dudley, an American, will replace Tony Hayward as CEO of this multi-national corporation; however, the reopening of the Lockerbie case, one for which Libya has paid out USD 1.7 billion in compensation, may strain US-Libyan relations in the short term and harm business opportunities for US oil companies in Libya.
 

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