The Cable

Libya claim delays Feltman confirmation vote

A compensation claim regarding Libya appears to be delaying the confirmation vote of Jeffrey Feltman to become assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, The Cable has learned.

Feltman's nomination was forwarded by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to the full Senate last week. But last Friday, before they broke for Memorial Day, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), usually a reliable Obama White House ally, put a hold delaying a Senate vote on the nomination until after the week-long recess, apparently at the request of an unidentified constituent with an unspecified, Libya-related claim. The case does not have to do with the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland, but officials would not specify what it was regarding.

The case doesn't appear to have anything to do with Feltman himself or his specific role in U.S.-Libya policy, sources in and out of the government said. Rather, as the highest level State Department Middle East official to undergo confirmation, his nomination seems to be an opportunity for Levin to raise the matter on behalf of the constituent.

Feltman, a career Foreign Service Officer, served as the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon and is currently serving as the acting assistant secretary of the NEA bureau. He declined to comment. Feltman traveled in Lebanon and back to Washington with Vice President Joseph Biden last week.

His predecessor as assistant secretary of NEA, David Welch, retired from the State Department in December to join Bechtel as vice president for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Bechtel is part of an Egyptian-led joint venture that has contracts to design and build power plants in Libya.

Last August, "Mr. Welch helped negotiate a fund for Libyan victims of 1986 U.S. air strikes on Tripoli and Benghazi," the Washington Times reported. "The strikes were retaliation for Libya´s role in bombing a German nightclub frequented by American servicemen."

The Justice Department declined to comment on the matter. A U.S. official said it's not clear if the matter raised by Levin on behalf of his constituent should be resolved by State or the Justice Department.

Levin's office also declined to comment, except to say last Friday that the Senator had asked for a few more days to seek clarification on some matters before the Senate takes up the nomination. Congress is out all week and Levin is back in Michigan, his office said Tuesday.

UPDATE: A Democratic Hill staff source writes, "Vice President Biden was pushing very hard for expedited Senate confirmation of Feltman to allow him to accompany the VP to Lebanon as the sworn-in A/S for NEA.  This pressure started ... before Feltman's confirmation hearing with Biden personally calling Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Kerry to ask this be done. The Committee formally reported out his nomination last Tuesday. If there was no hold put, Feltman could have been confirmed on Wednesday. What this all means is that Levin can be argued to have defied the VP's direct wishes here.  Feltman still went with Biden, but only in his acting capacity."

UPDATE II: In an October 2008 press statement, Levin said: "I welcome Libya’s deposit of the final installment of the $1.5 billion, which it agreed to pay under the U.S.-Libyan agreement on a comprehensive settlement of terrorism claims against Libya. ... Libya’s full payment of the claims settlement ends the years of waiting for compensation for the victims and their families of the Pan Am bombing, the La Belle Discotheque bombing in Berlin, and other Libyan-sponsored acts of terrorism. ... One of the two servicemen killed in the La Belle bombing was from Michigan; 80 other servicemen and women were wounded in that bombing including a Michigan soldier. This payment removes a major obstacle to an improvement of U.S.-Libyan relations, although there are other outstanding issues.”

The Detroit News adds Thursday, "At issue is whether a Michigan resident whom Levin's office would not identify is eligible for compensation under a $1.5 billion settlement with the Libyan government. ... Under the settlement, several lawsuits filed in U.S. courts against the Libyan government were dropped. ... A Levin aide who spoke on condition of anonymity said the dispute is over a Michigan resident and plaintiff on one of the dropped suits who was not a U.S. citizen at the time of the attacks. The aide said the agency set up to administer the fund will only compensate those who were U.S. citizens when they were attacked. ... Francesco Zirelli, a Detroit photographer, was among 11 U.S. residents hurt in the attack on Rome's airport in 1985 who sued the Libyan government for compensation."

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