Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Bush lets US companies resume talks with Libya

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

US President George W. Bush issued an executive order on Thursday allowing US companies to begin negotiating a return to Libya, but members of the Senate said more sanctions would have to be lifted before the US could include Libya in its program to find alternative work for nuclear engineers.

Bush's action had been widely anticipated after Libya agreed in December to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

Administration officials informed Congress on Thursday that 25,000kg of "sensitive Libyan equipment" had already been flown from Libya to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory located in Tennessee.

The equipment included centrifuges that were still in crates from the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories in Pakistan.

It was Khan's network of nuclear suppliers, US officials say, that provided Libya with nuclear technology.

However, the project was halted long before it could produce a weapon, the officials said.

But Senator Richard Lugar, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said during a hearing on Libya on Thursday that no money from the nonproliferation bill that bears his name, the Nunn-Lugar Act, can be spent to retrain Libyan nuclear scientists.

This was because the act prohibits aid to countries under sanctions.

"Well, our feeling is that we better lift those sanctions," he said.

The law may also need to be expanded to operate beyond the former Soviet Union.

Bush has said that he favors doing so, but he has not said how he would pay for the broader mission.

The partial lifting of sanctions enables Libya, which produces about 1.4 million barrels of oil a day, to draw US oil companies back to the country.

A number of US firms, including Marathon Oil, Occidental Petroleum and ConocoPhillips, have already indicated interest in exploring new relationships with Libya.

Some survivors of the bombing of Pan Am 103 have accused Bush of bending to oil interests by beginning to normalize relations with Libya.

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