Tue, Dec 23, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Libya agrees to snap inspections

THAWING OUT Tony Blair is keen to meet Qaddafi, Libya's official news agency said, although British officials said the prime minister had no such plans at the moment


Libya has agreed to allow snap UN nuclear arms inspections, just a day after declaring it was giving up plans to build an atomic bomb, a Western diplomat said on Sunday.

Libya, widely praised for announcing on Friday that it was ditching efforts to build the bomb and other banned weapons, told the head of the UN nuclear watchdog on Saturday it was ready to sign up to inspections, the diplomat said.

The surprise moves, which could lead to the end of US sanctions and the return of US oil companies, mark an about-face for Muammar Qaddafi, Libyan leader for 34 years.

"We are turning our swords into ploughshares and this step should be appreciated and followed by all other countries," Libyan Prime Minister Shokri Ghanem said of Friday's statement, adding that economic progress was more important than arms.

But Britain, which played a key role in talks that persuaded Tripoli to abandon its arms ambitions, said the fate that befell Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who was ousted in April by US-led forces, may have prompted the move.

"We showed after Saddam Hussein failed to cooperate with the United Nations that we meant business and Libya, and I hope other countries, will draw that lesson," Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told Sky television.


In Tripoli, the official Jana news agency said British Prime Minister Tony Blair had "expressed his hope and desire" to meet Qaddafi "and discuss international affairs with him."

The agency said Blair made the offer in a telephone conversation with the Libyan leader. It did not say when this took place and gave no further details.

Earlier in London, Blair's office said there were no plans for the prime minister to meet Qaddafi, as British Sunday newspapers also reported.

An official said Blair spoke to Qaddafi through a translator on Thursday. In a half-hour conversation, they agreed the final wording of Libya's statement on its weapons.

US intelligence officials said Qaddafi seemed the driving force behind Libya's decision and his motivation may have ranged from concerns about the Iraq war and a desire to end isolation to concerns about domestic threats to his own rule.

Tripoli acted swiftly to show it was serious.

A top official met the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna on Saturday to discuss its proposals to accept stricter IAEA nuclear safeguards.

The Vienna-based Western diplomat said Libya told Mohammed ElBaradei it would open its atomic facilities to unannounced inspections, a deal going beyond the basic demands of the main nuclear arms control treaty.

Libya is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, allowing limited IAEA inspections, but said it was now willing to sign the treaty's Additional Protocol, which allows far more intrusive checks. Iran signed it on Thursday after pressure from Washington over an alleged arms program.

intent to sign

"The Libyans confirmed they want to sign the Additional Protocol in their meeting with ElBaradei," said the diplomat.

Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abderrhmane Chalgam said in Algiers: "Our delegation is still in negotiations in Vienna."

The separate Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Libya would have to adopt the Chemical Weapons Convention before inspections for such arms could be made.

Libya was freed of broader UN sanctions this year after accepting responsibility for the Dec. 21, 1988, downing of a US airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.

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