Mon, Dec 22, 2003 - Page 1 News List

US intelligence forced Qaddafi's hand, officials say

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

Secret trips by American intelligence officers, late night meetings with Muammar Qaddafi and disclosures that the US knew about Libya's arms programs led to Tripoli's pledge to give up its unconventional weapons, senior intelligence officials said on Saturday.

A team of American and British intelligence officers flew to Libya clandestinely in October and this month for stretches of about two weeks, visiting sites where they were shown parts of the country's chemical, nuclear and missile programs.

Qaddafi appears to have been the driving force behind the process, and his motivation may have ranged from concerns about the US-led war against Iraq and a desire to join the international community to concerns about extremism inside Libya, the officials said.

"The Libyans are very focused on extremism and have made some contributions to the war on terrorism," one of the intelligence officials said.

US officials are optimistic about working with Libya on fighting terrorism, he said. "We're hopeful that we can indeed do some collaborative work against some of the extremist groups who are threatening all sorts of people," he said.

The intelligence officers were accompanied at all times by Libyan intelligence, drivers changed cars along the way and the Westerners were ushered into office buildings for meetings with Qaddafi that started after 11pm.

"Operationally, we did conduct this entire business as secretly as we possibly could so it indeed was the result of a series of secret meetings in Europe and then of course trips clandestinely to Libya," a US intelligence official who was on the visits told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Qaddafi's representatives initiated the process in mid-March by asking Britain to broker talks with the US on its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.

"During the meetings with Colonel Qaddafi, he was consistent throughout in his intentions to proceed with admission and elimination of their WMD programs," said one of the American intelligence officers who attended the meetings.

In each meeting Qaddafi sent a message to London and Washington.

"It usually was late at night, but on each case he had done his homework and was ready for us and was quite generous with his time," he said.

When Libya learned how much the US already knew about its weapons programs, it appeared to give Tripoli the final push to give up its banned weapons.

The American and British team was taken to dozens of sites, where they saw centrifuges and parts for centrifuges that appeared to be in working order. They also saw tonnes of sulfur mustard produced about a decade ago.

While the intelligence officials believe Libya had an active nuclear program, they declined to comment on how close the country was to having a nuclear weapon.

"Suffice it to say the Libyans were substantially farther along on uranium enrichment programs than had been publicly disclosed before," said an official involved in analysis of weapons proliferation.

"And by far the most significant revelation they made to us was their disclosure of centrifuges. That was quite a milestone in their admission," he said.

The Libyans also showed the team advanced missiles delivered by North Korea in the late 1990s.

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