"I greatly appreciate your very swift response, and your organization's work in general. It's a terrific source of authoritative information."

– Lisa Beyer
Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018
U.S. Lifts Remaining Economic Sanctions Against Libya

Paul Kerr

President George W. Bush lifted most remaining U.S. sanctions on Libya Sept. 20, two days before Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance Paula DeSutter told Congress that verification of Libya’s disarmament tasks is “essentially complete.”

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Sept. 20 that Bush “[t]erminated the national emergency declared in 1986 under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), and revoked related Executive Orders.” This action “rescinds the remaining economic sanctions under IEEPA and ends the need for Treasury Department licenses for trade with Libya,” McClellan added.

The United States also will permit direct air flights between the two countries as well as unfreeze Libyan assets in the United States. President Ronald Reagan imposed sanctions against Libya under the IEEPA in January 1986 after its involvement in terrorist attacks in Europe the previous month.

Bush also waived prohibitions on extending certain U.S. export assistance programs to Libya as well as on the ability of U.S. taxpayers to claim credits for taxes paid to Libya.

Libya is still subject to some sanctions because it remains on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. These sanctions include prohibitions on arms exports and Department of Defense contracts. The United States also is required to oppose loans from international financial institutions to such countries and impose export controls on dual-use items.

The decision to lift sanctions is Washington’s latest effort to improve relations with Tripoli as the latter has continued to make progress in implementing its disarmament commitments. Tripoli pledged in December 2003 to give up its nuclear and chemical weapons programs, as well as its longer-range missiles.

Washington formally resumed diplomatic ties with Tripoli in June and has established a liaison office there. This past April, the Bush administration terminated the application of the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, as well as modified sanctions imposed under the IEEPA. (See ACT, May 2004.)

McClellan stated that “concerns over weapons of mass destruction no longer pose a barrier to the normalization of U.S.-Libyan relations.” The United States still has concerns regarding Libya’s ties to terrorism and its human rights record.

DeSutter testified that the United States, working with the United Kingdom, has completed verifying “with reasonable certainty that Libya has eliminated, or has set in place the elimination of,” its weapons programs. The verification process included interviews with relevant Libyan personnel, along with visits to possible weapons-related facilities, she explained.

Some disarmament tasks remain, DeSutter said, adding that the United States, the United Kingdom, and Libya have established a Trilateral Steering and Cooperation Committee to “facilitate Libya’s further implementation of its commitments.” The committee will also handle “any additional [disarmament] issues that arise,” she stated.

Libya has already destroyed its chemical weapons-capable munitions but must still destroy its stockpiles of chemical agents. DeSutter added that Libya also is seeking approval from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to convert its former chemical weapons facility at Rabta into a pharmaceuticals plant.

In addition, Libya has agreed to destroy its medium-range Scud B missiles. Although Washington and London had previously agreed “in principle” to allow Libya to keep modified versions of the missiles, an administration official said Sept. 23 that the plan is now off the table. Libya has five years to destroy the missiles and find an appropriate substitute to meet its legitimate defense needs. The United States has already removed Libya’s longer-range Scud C missiles. (See ACT, May 2004.)

The United States also has already removed most components of Libya’s nuclear weapons program, but the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is continuing to investigate the program’s origins. After Libya’s December 2003 decision, the agency discovered that the government had secretly been pursuing nuclear weapons. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

In an Aug. 30 report to the agency’s Board of Governors, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei stated that information Tripoli has given to the agency about its past nuclear activities “appear[s] to be consistent with the information available to and verified by” the IAEA.

According to ElBaradei’s report, the IAEA continues to investigate several outstanding issues regarding the program, particularly nuclear material and other assistance provided to Libya by a clandestine procurement network run by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. The report states that cooperation from other countries is “essential” for determining the role of the network in supplying Libya.

Entities in countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates were part of the network. Legal investigations also are underway in countries such as South Africa and Germany. An IAEA official told Arms Control Today in June that the agency has “uncorroborated information” that North Korea supplied Libya with nuclear material.