Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s decision to free Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi sparked fury among American leaders, but a US State Department official has said the Obama administration recognises Scotland’s right to decide its own affairs.

Fears had been raised over a possible US boycott of Scottish produce, but State Department spokesman Ian Kelly promised that there would be no knee-jerk reaction against the country. He said the US had “very deep and abiding ties with Scotland”, and there could be no lasting discord over the Scottish Government’s decision to release the terminally-ill Libyan on compassionate grounds.

Asked whether there was any “diplomatic price for the Scottish Government to pay”, he said: “We are very close allies, and I don’t think we’re looking to punish anybody, per se. There’s no tit-for-tat here.”

“We’re looking to continue the very important co-operation we have with the United Kingdom and with Scotland. We have very deep and abiding ties with Scotland. These ties are cultural; we share political values, and we have many family ties,” he added, pointing out that his own father was born in Edinburgh.

The thaw comes ahead of Gordon Brown’s visit to the US and a meeting with Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi at the UN Security Council in New York, which poses a diplomatic headache for the Prime Minister who is keen to avoid sparking fresh anger over Lockerbie.

The Obama administration reacted furiously to Megrahi’s freedom, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intervened to try to block his release. She phoned Mr MacAskill to tell him it would be “absolutely wrong” to allow Megrahi, who has cancer, to return to his family in Libya, and Mr Obama told Prime Minister Gordon Brown of his disappointment at Scotland’s decision.

Yesterday, however, the State Department acknowledged that American could not expect to decide on affairs in Scotland.

Responding to a question on whether the US had “forgiven” the Scottish Government, Mr Kelly said: “I don’t think it’s a matter of forgiving anybody. All along we recognised that Mr MacAskill had the right to do what he did. We objected extremely strenuously at many different levels and in many different channels to the release of Mr Megrahi. We’re looking to move on.”

An aide to First Minister Alex Salmond last night described the thawing of relations as “very welcome”. The Scottish Government has maintained since Megrahi’s release last month that its decision was the right one, and US criticism of the Scottish Justice system has not been well received on this side of the Atlantic.

Scottish businesses have also remained defiant in the face of a threatened US boycott, with several websites urging Americans to avoid whisky and UK holidays. Tourism organisations said they had not seen much evidence of a downturn in bookings.

But while US opinion of Scotland appears to be improving, the White House remains fiercely critical of the Libyan regime led by Colonel Gaddafi.

In response to a query on Col Gaddafi’s likely reception when he attends the UN General Assembly on US soil, Mr Kelly said: “What kind of welcome can he expect?” He added: “He will participate in a number of meetings. We have a broad bilateral agenda with Libya and we have a number of programmes of cooperation. We look forward to continuing these -- this bilateral relationship that we have.”