Vol. 4 Num 213 Wed. December 31, 2003  

UN nuclear chief says
Gaddafi confirms dropping mass destruction arms

Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi confirmed he has abandoned programmes of weapons of mass destruction, the head of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) said here Monday after a meeting in Tripoli.

"He reiterated his commitment to the destruction of weapons of mass destruction and he said he will promote (nuclear) non-proliferation in the Middle East," said a spokesman for IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

ElBaradei visited the Libyan capital following Gaddafi's surprise announcement that his country was giving up the search for chemical, biological and nuclear arms.

Gaddafi had likewise indicated in a meeting with ElBaradei, head of the UN's Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, that he wished to "turn a page in his country's history and promote its social and economic development," the spokesman said.

The meeting took place in Tripoli, where the IAEA chief and his team arrived on Saturday.

ElBaradei said in Tripoli earlier Monday that Libya was prepared to allow UN inspectors access as if it had already signed the additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

He added that during their inspections, his team had seen equipment capable of enriching uranium but it was not in operation.

The announcement and ElBaradei's visit are the fruit of nine months of secret negotiations between Libya and diplomats from Britain and the United States which ended with Tripoli's dramatic pledge on December 19.

But earlier Monday, the United States refused to ease diplomatic pressure on Libya, despite the Tripoli government's latest concessions on its banned weapons programmes.

Washington noted Libya's decision to allow snap inspections of suspect sites, which came days after its surprise decision to come clean on its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs.

But it warned its long-time foe there was a long way to go before it could expect normal relations with the United States.

"We're looking to Libya to get out of the terrorism game and get out of the WMD game," said State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli.

"They have made some very important and noteworthy statements regarding their intention to do so.

"It is a long process. We need to make sure that there is follow through on these commitments.

"As there is follow through, we are willing to discuss with them the issue of improved bilateral relations, but we're not there yet."

Libya still faces a range of US sanctions, and the latest move by the unpredictable Gaddafi was seen partly as a bid to get them removed.

The country was under international sanctions for years over the 1988 bombing of a US airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie that killed 270 people.

But the United Nations lifted its embargo in September after Tripoli agreed to pay 2.7 billion dollars (2.2 billion euros) in compensation and accept responsibility for the bombing but denied guilt.

AFP adds: The United States refused Monday to ease diplomatic pressure on Libya, despite the Tripoli government's latest concessions on its banned weapons programmes.