(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Placing Libya on the United Nations Security Council is like "putting the cat in charge of the cream," charged Israel's Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman in New York in a telephone conversation with The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
He heavily criticized the UN's General Assembly vote Tuesday which placed Libya on the security council for two years as of January 1, 2008. It was one of five temporary members elected to the 15-member body, along with Vietnam, Burkina Faso, Croatia and Costa Rica. Libya will replace Qatar on the council as the representative of the Arab nations.
"There are a lot of questions and a lot of concerns," Gillerman said.
The United States, which is one of five permanent UNSC members, did not oppose the selection of Libya. Just over a year ago, the US removed the North African nation from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Relations between Washington and Tripoli have improved since Libya's surprise decision in 2003 to dismantle its clandestine nuclear weapons program. That same year, Libya officially accepted responsibility for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. It also agreed to pay reparations to the victims' families.
Libya's Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam said, "The choice proves the renewed confidence in the pioneering role of Libya and the brother leader of the revolution in serving the cause of peace and stability in the world, Africa and the Mediterranean."
But Gillerman said he was not convinced that Libya had truly reformed. He likened it to the election of Syria as a temporary council member in 2002-2003.
Security Council members should fight terror and not perpetrate it, he said.
"There is a certain amount of cynicism and hypocrisy in the selection process," Gillerman added.
Although Libya is only one vote out of 15, it could act as a spoiler in decisions that need the council's full consensus. Recently, Gillerman said, Indonesia was the sole opposition to a council resolution against "outrageous" statements made by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Libya, he said, could also submit resolutions that could be counterproductive.
But Gillerman said it was possible that Libya could surprise its critics and move in a more moderate direction.
Its leader, Moammar Gaddafi, "has shown some signs of not wanting to be another Saddam Hussein," Gillerman said.
Libya has been looking to boost its image in Africa, most recently taking on the role as a mediator between Sudan's government and the splintered rebel groups in war-torn Darfur. A conference aimed at ending the more than four-year-old bloody conflict in the western Sudan region is scheduled to begin on October 27 in Libya.
Asked about Libya joining the council, US Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff told reporters "the United States doesn't reveal how it votes on these elections." But he said "the world changes," citing the responsible role that World War II enemies Germany and Japan now play. "We look forward to working with all new members that are elected," he repeated several times.
Libya's UN Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi stressed the 178 "yes" votes Libya received in the 192-member General Assembly and told reporters: "It means I can say we are back to the international community, that all the problems we have faced in the past are now behind us."
"I think our relations with the US nowadays are back to normal...and I think they have not worked against our candidacy. We are sure about that," he said.
But relatives of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing said they were angered by the US's position on Libya.
Glenn Johnson, who lost his 21-year-old daughter Beth Ann in the Lockerbie bombing and chairs the group "Victims of Pan Am 103," which represents families of about 160 of the 270 victims, said Libya still owes the families $2 million apiece as part of a settlement that Libya made with the US. The families have already received $8 million each.
"We really felt let down when the State Department didn't make the objections it has in the past," Johnson said. "The US allowed [Libya] off the hook even though for some reason Libya decided it didn't have to take the last step of the agreement. We can't understand it."
Dan Cohen, who lost his 20-year-old daughter Theodora, said the vast majority of Lockerbie victims were Americans and Gaddafi "has more American blood on his hands than any other surviving dictator in the world."
"It is a disgrace that the United States would not even put up a fight and try to defeat Libya," he said. "America just hasn't stood up on this issue at all... And the Libyan government is working diligently to get the one person convicted in this case out of jail in Scotland."
Wolff noted that some family members of the Pan Am bombing were watching the vote from the General Assembly visitors gallery.
"Their presence was felt here today. I felt it and I know other delegations felt it," he said. "The compensation issue is something we are pursuing bilaterally with the Libyan government and will continue to do so."
But Libya's Ettalhi said, "We have fulfilled completely our agreement with the Lockerbie people... Please just read this agreement and you realize we have really done what we have to do."
AP contributed to this report.