ElBaradei eager to start Libyan arms inspections

WATCHDOG: The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said inspections could begin next week, while Qaddafi told CNN he had nothing to hide


Wed, Dec 24, 2003 - Page 6

The head of the UN atomic watchdog agency said he will lead the first inspection of Libya's nuclear facilities as soon as next week, aiming to kick-start the elimination of the country's programs for weapons of mass destruction.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he could make his trip Libya sometime next week.

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi said he had nothing to hide.

"Come and see what it is, we don't want to hide anything," he told CNN.

Speaking of other nations with nuclear weapons, Qaddafi said they should also open themselves to inspections.

"They should follow the steps, or take the example of Libya, so that they prevent any tragedy from [being] inflicted on their people," he said.

He added that this sort of openess would force Israel to "expose their programs of and their weapons of mass destruction."

In Washington, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the US expects Qaddafi "to act on the commitments he's made. And the initial signs are positive."

Diplomats familiar with the agency said ElBaradei could fly to Tripoli on Friday. They also said he and the IAEA were scrambling to play catch-up after being caught off guard by Libya's admission, the result of nine months of secret negotiations with Britain and the US.

ElBaradei praised the Libyan move "to rid itself of all programs or activities that are relevant or could lead to the production of weapons of mass destruction."

Libya agreed to tell the IAEA about current nuclear programs, adhere to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and sign an additional protocol to allow wide-ranging inspections on short notice.

ElBaradei said Libya's weapons research effort started with a program to enrich uranium through spinning in centrifuges "sometime in the 80s [and] picked up steam in the 90s."

The US had also learned that Libya had tens of tonnes of mustard agent, a World War I-era chemical weapon, produced about 10 years ago.

It also had aircraft bombs capable of dispersing the mustard agent in combat. In addition, it had a supply of Scud-C ballistic missiles made in North Korea. The weapons can hit targets 500 miles away.

Also Monday, the world's chemical weapons watchdog said Libya's promise will help rid the globe of "these heinous means of terror, death and destruction."

"Libya's imminent accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention brings us much closer to our shared goal of a world free of these means of terror, death and destruction," the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a statement from its headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands.

Libya is one of just 14 countries that has neither signed nor ratified the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention prohibiting the produc-tion, storage and use of chemical weapons.

Qaddafi's decision to come clean is the latest in a series of moves to end his country's international isolation and shed its reputation as a rogue nation.