Mon, Mar 08, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Libya hands over nuclear equipment to US

REUTERS , CRAWFORD, TEXAS

In a major step toward completing its pledged disarmament, Libya on Saturday sent to the US all the equipment believed to remain of its nuclear weapons program, along with its longer-range missiles and launchers, the White House said.

As part of an agreement to rid Libya of weapons of mass destruction, a ship containing 500 tonnes of equipment left the North African country earlier on Saturday for an undisclosed destination in the US, White House National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack said.

The shipment included all of Libya's known centrifuge parts used to enrich uranium, and all equipment from its former uranium conversion facility. The White House said the ship was also carrying all of Libya's longer-range missiles, including five Scuds, and all associated equipment, including launchers.

"It contained all the known remaining equipment associated with Libya's nuclear weapons program ... It's coming to the US We're not saying where or when for security reasons," McCormack told reporters after President George W. Bush met with the president of Mexico at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Earlier shipments of nuclear weapons-related equipment were taken to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the US Department of Energy's largest science and energy laboratory. There, lawmakers said, it was destroyed.

Libya announced in December it would abandon efforts to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and has allowed US inspectors to search its weapons sites and to remove sensitive equipment.

It is expected next week to sign on to a tough inspections procedure that allows snap UN inspections of nuclear facilities.

McCormack said the US was to begin discussions with Libyan officials yesterday on retraining their weapons scientists.

In recognition of Libya's efforts, the Bush administration announced last month it would allow US oil firms to begin negotiating to return. It also ended a restriction on Americans from using their US passports to visit the oil-rich nation.

In addition, the administration decided to allow Libya to establish a diplomatic presence in Washington following its decision to base several US diplomats in Tripoli.

Congressional sources said the US could roll back additional sanctions in the coming months.

Easing the sanctions could allow US oil companies to resume activities in Libya, which they had to abandon when expanded US sanctions forced them to pull out in 1986. OPEC member Libya produces around 1.4 million barrels of oil a day.

Libya named veteran oil expert Fethi Omar bin Chetwane as its first energy minister in more than five years on Saturday ahead of negotiations on the return of US oil firms.

Bush has seized on Libya's pledge to abandon its weapons programs as an example for other countries, including Syria.

The Bush administration plans to impose sanctions on Syria within weeks for what Washington says is its support of terrorist groups and its failure to stop guerrillas from entering Iraq, congressional officials and other sources said on Friday.

McCormack said all of Libya's known chemical munitions have been destroyed. He said stocks of mustard gas have been moved from insecure warehouses to a single secure facility, adding that the US will work with Libya to "achieve the destruction and elimination of the actual agent itself."

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