IAEA Praises Libya for Disarmament Efforts

Paul Kerr

Libya continues to move forward in fulfilling its December 2003 pledge to eliminate its nuclear and chemical weapons programs, as well as its long-range missiles. Perhaps in an effort to encourage other countries to follow Libya’s example, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors adopted a resolution March 10 finding that Libya’s past clandestine nuclear activities “constituted non-compliance” with its IAEA safeguards agreement, while also praising Libya’s subsequent cooperation and dismantlement efforts.

Although the board expressed “concern” about Tripoli’s secret nuclear efforts and called them a “breach of its obligation to comply with…its Safeguards Agreement,” it also commended the government’s “actions….to remedy the non-compliance.” IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told the board March 8 that Libya has displayed “active cooperation” with the agency’s efforts to investigate its nuclear activities, allowing inspectors “unrestricted access to all requested locations” and providing the agency with relevant information.

Because of this cooperation, the resolution requested that ElBaradei report Libya’s noncompliance to the UN Security Council “for information purposes only.” The IAEA is required to report findings of noncompliance to the Security Council, which then has the option of taking action against the offending government. There is no indication that the Security Council intends to do so in Libya’s case.

The resolution’s finding of noncompliance is based on a Feb. 20 agency report which provided new details on how, starting in the 1980s, Libya failed to report a variety of nuclear activities to the IAEA—a violation of its safeguards agreement. Such agreements allow the IAEA to monitor states-parties’ compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which Libya joined in 1975. The IAEA first stated in December that Libya violated its safeguards agreement but provided no specifics.

Libya fulfilled another of its December commitments by signing an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement March 10. Such protocols expand the IAEA’s authority to investigate suspected clandestine nuclear activities. Libya had previously agreed to act as if the protocol were in force until it is ratified.

The IAEA is continuing to verify Libya’s claims and investigate its procurement network. ElBaradei is to issue a report on the agency’s progress in time for the board’s next meeting in June.

Disarmament Efforts Continue

International organizations, as well as U.S. and British weapons experts, have continued to assist Libya in accounting for and dismantling its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. Assistant Secretary of State Paula DeSutter told the House International Relations Committee March 10 that London and Washington, along with the IAEA, “arranged the removal” of fresh highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the center housing Libya’s Soviet-supplied, 10-megawatt Tajoura Research Reactor. The approximately 13 kg of 80 percent enriched fuel, which, according to an IAEA press release, “can…be processed and used to make a nuclear weapon,” was shipped to Russia March 8. Moscow originally supplied the fuel and “intends to blend down the HEU” into a form unsuitable for weapons use, according to an agency press release.

DeSutter added that, earlier in the month, the United States “removed” additional material related to Libya’s nuclear and missile programs. This material included centrifuge components, “all of Libya’s longest-range missiles,” and missile launchers. The Department of State said in January that it had removed centrifuge components, uranium hexafluoride, ballistic missile guidance systems, and nuclear weapons designs from Libya.

DeSutter also testified that the United States is developing programs “to redirect Libyan WMD and missile scientists, engineers, and technicians to productive civilian pursuits.” A State Department official told Arms Control Today March 22 that the United Kingdom “has the lead” on this effort, which is in the process of gathering information on the relevant Libyan personnel.

At the same time, international efforts to dismantle Libya’s chemical weapons program are progressing. On March 19, inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)—the organization that verifies compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention—verified Tripoli’s March 5 initial chemical weapons declaration. According to the OPCW, Libya declared “approximately 23 metric tonnes of mustard gas, 1,300 metric tonnes of precursor chemicals, …[an] inactivated chemical weapons production facility, …[and] two chemical weapons storage facilities.”

Between Feb. 27 and March 3, the OPCW also “verified… the complete destruction” of more than 3,500 unfilled bombs “designed to disperse chemical warfare agent,” according to organization press releases. The OPCW stated March 22 that it intends to verify Libya’s destruction of the remaining chemical agents.

The December Deal

A Libyan official has provided more details about Tripoli’s decision to come clean about its weapons activities. Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, told al-Hayat March 10 that Libya made its decision for “political, economic, cultural and military gains” and because it was “on a dangerous path…with the Western countries.” He also implied that Libya had been developing WMD for use in the event of a conflict with Israel, but progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process made such planning unnecessary.

Libya’s December decision resulted from a series of discussions begun after Libya approached the United Kingdom in March 2003 to resolve concerns that it was pursuing WMD. Bush administration officials have claimed credit for Libya’s cooperation, saying that it stemmed from two of their actions: last year’s U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the Proliferation Security Initiative, under which German and Italian authorities interdicted an October shipment of centrifuge components from the United Arab Emirates to Libya. DeSutter testified that Libya allowed U.S. and British experts “unprecedented access to some of their most secret WMD sites” after the October interdiction.

However, a former senior State Department official who led Clinton administration efforts in the Middle East, has asserted that Libya had long sought to renounce its unconventional weapons programs. In a March 10 Financial Times article, former Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk wrote that Libya offered to give up its chemical weapons program during secret talks in 1999. The Clinton administration refused this offer, he said, because it placed a higher priority on persuading Tripoli to fulfill its remaining obligations under UN Security Council resolutions imposed in response to Libya’s bombings of two passenger airlines during the 1980s.

Other officials have also emphasized the role of prior diplomatic efforts in motivating Libya’s decision. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw pointed out in December that London had been engaged in “diplomacy…going back for six or seven years” with Tripoli. In addition, Flynt Leverett, who previously helped oversee the Bush administration’s Middle East policy at the National Security Council, wrote in January that, during two years of diplomatic discussions beginning in 2001, the United States offered to lift U.S. sanctions on Libya in exchange for “a verifiable dismantling of Libya’s weapons projects.”

Whatever the reason for Tripoli’s decision, U.S. officials seem optimistic that the two countries’ bilateral relationship will improve. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns told the House International Relations Committee March 10 that “U.S.-Libyan relations are on a path of gradual, step-by-step normalization,” citing Libya’s progress in following through on its December commitments to dismantle its WMD programs and renounce support for terrorism. In order for this trend to continue, Burns added, Libya must continue this progress and make improvements in areas such as human rights. Burns visited Libya March 23 to discuss further efforts to normalize bilateral relations.

The United States currently does not have diplomatic relations with Libya and still maintains a number of economic sanctions imposed in response to Libya’s past WMD activities and support for terrorism. However, several steps have already been taken to improve relations. For example, the United States announced in February that it was removing all travel restrictions to Libya and allowing “U.S. companies with pre-sanctions holdings…to negotiate the terms of their re-entry into operations” there. Additionally, the United States has sent a diplomat to staff an interests section in the Belgian Embassy in Tripoli, the first official U.S. representation in more than two decades.

Other steps may be taken soon. Another State Department official interviewed March 22 said that “there is talk” about asking Congress to strike Libya from the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act. Under that law, the United States can punish foreign companies for making certain investments in Libya, or providing goods or services that contribute to Libya’s ability to acquire chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

IAEA on Libya

A Feb. 20 report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spelled out Libya's failures to comply with its safeguards agreement with the agency.

Perhaps the most important activities Libya failed to declare are related to its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. Tripoli began the program in the early 1980s and revived it in 1995. According to the IAEA, Libya failed to report that it imported uranium hexafluoride, along with other nuclear material, as recently as 2001. When fed into centrifuges, uranium hexafluoride can be used to produce either low-enriched uranium (LEU) for use as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors or highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can be used in nuclear weapons. U.S. officials first disclosed the program in December, stating that Libya had centrifuge components as well as complete centrifuges but no operating enrichment facility. Libya acquired its centrifuge components from foreign suppliers, including the network run by Pakistani official Abdul Qadeer Khan. (See ACT, March 2004).

Additionally, the agency said that Libya did not report design information for a nine-centrifuge pilot facility. The IAEA is in the process of verifying Libya's claim that it did not introduce any nuclear material into the facility.

The report further noted that Libya failed to disclose the design information for a facility which it used to conduct clandestine uranium-conversion experiments. Natural uranium must be converted into uranium hexafluoride gas before it can be enriched. Libya acknowledges that it produced some uranium compounds, but not uranium hexafluoride.

The Feb. 20 report also disclosed for the first time that, between 1984 and 1990, Libya secretly irradiated small amounts of uranium in its Soviet-supplied 10-megawatt Tajura Research Reactor and separated plutonium from some of the resulting product. The reactor was under IAEA safeguards. Separating plutonium from spent nuclear reactor fuel is another method for producing fissile material for nuclear weapons.