A different story about Gadaffi and the IRA

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The Independent Online

I read with interest the article by Robert Verkaik, 5 October , headlined "Britain offered Gadaffi £14 million to stop supporting the IRA", and telling of a "secret offer, detailed in a letter sent by the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson."

The story has naturally gone round the world. But it is not supported by the available evidence.

All this happened a few years before I became head of the Near East and North Africa Department in the FCO in April 1980. By that time Lord Carrington was Foreign Secretary and Mrs Thatcher Prime Minister, but earlier I had quite a lot to do with Harold Wilson in the run-up to independence in Aden. I find it hard to credit that he would have written such a letter, as controversial then as it would be now, as open to the risk of a leak, and as unlikely to deliver a result.

Sure enough, the FCO documents published alongside the story, which are a bit of a jumble, tell a different story (there may be other documents that have not been published, I do not know).

Relations with Libya were bedevilled by financial claims and counterclaims arising from the closure of the British military base soon after the 1969 revolution, and by the interruption of the supply of British weapons to Libya by an embargo which had been imposed before my time and left a lot of loose ends about spare parts and so on. These are summarised in the papers now published, and the picture is familiar to me because we were still arguing about the same claims in the early 80s.

In addition, these papers record concern about Qadhafi's support of the IRA (which was still on the agenda in my time, although I believe it may have receded a bit, I do not now know why).

Although the paper trail is not complete, it appears that the FCO recommended that Harold Wilson should send an oral message to Qadhafi dealing both with the claims and with the IRA. There is a text, which may have been the final text although that is not clear. A later report confirms that a message was sent, and that it was not answered.

It was an oral message, not a letter. It did not mention £14 million or any other figure. It did not suggest that Britain was willing to pay a price to end support for the IRA.

But that would not have made such a good story, would it?

Oliver Miles
British Ambassador to Libya, 1984