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updated: 9/1/2011 12:59 PM

Clinton: Libya must deal with Lockerbie bomber

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Associated Press

PARIS -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Libyan opposition leaders Thursday that they must deal with the case of the only person convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and that the U.S. will be watching closely how they handle it.

Meeting with senior members of Libya's National Transitional Council, Clinton said Abdel Baset al-Megrahi's release from prison and the current status of the former Libyan intelligence are of deep concern to the Obama administration, two senior U.S. officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private diplomatic exchange.

The officials said Clinton made clear to opposition leaders Mustafa Abdul-Jalil and Mahmoud Jibril that the U.S. believes al-Megrahi should never have been freed from a Scottish prison and that his return to a hero's welcome in Moammar Gadhafi's Libya remains problematic.

The ailing al-Megrahi was released two years ago on compassionate grounds, eight years into a life sentence, after doctors predicted he would die of prostate cancer within three months.

An ardent Gadhafi supporter, he is now reported to be near death at his home in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.

Al-Megrahi's presence in Libya has led some members of the U.S. Congress to demand his extradition or jailing, particularly since rebels drove Gadhafi from power last month and are now on the verge of taking full control of the country.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., had asked Clinton to make the release of billions of dollars in frozen assets from the Gadhafi government contingent on al-Megrahi's return to jail.

The State Department said Wednesday that Clinton would press the opposition on the case, but would not link it to the assets, given the immediate priorities such as securing and stabilizing Libya.

The U.S. officials said Clinton told Jalil and Jibril that they would have to "grapple" with the al-Megrahi matter and look for a "just and appropriate response" to American concerns.

The officials said the Libyans had been expecting Clinton to raise the matter and understood how much importance Washington attaches to it. The officials would not say if Clinton demanded specific actions from the Libyans.

The December 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 270 people, most of them Americans.