France ’s commitment to assist Libya’s civil nuclear program would not have been possible only a few years ago when Tripoli suffered under UN Security Council sanctions. Those international measures were adopted following the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1989 bombing of a French flight over Niger. Additionally, the United States imposed sanctions under the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act to hinder Tripoli’s ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
The Security Council suspended its sanctions in 1999 following Libyan cooperation in the airline bombings investigations and permanently lifted them in September 2003 after Tripoli committed to paying $2.7 billion in restitution to the families of the victims of the Pan Am bombing. Most U.S. sanctions were removed in 2004. However, some remain as Libya is still listed by the U.S. government as a state sponsor of terrorism.
In October 2003, German and Italian authorities interdicted a ship en route to Libya carrying centrifuge components. On Dec. 19 of that year, following secret negotiations with the United Kingdom and the United States , Libya announced that it would dismantle its WMD programs, release all information regarding those programs, and allow inspectors to verify its disarmament and compliance with international obligations. (See ACT, January/February 2004.)
Among the significant disclosures by Tripoli in the course of its disarmament was information regarding the proliferation network of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. Khan supplied Libya and other states, including Iran, with components for nuclear weapons programs, including centrifuges. Gas centrifuges can produce highly enriched uranium, which can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons.
Since abandoning its unconventional weapons programs, Libya has taken a number of steps to align itself with the global nonproliferation regime and convince other states of its commitment to disarmament. It signed an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency to allow for more intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities, ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and destroyed its stock of missiles whose ranges and payloads exceeded the Missile Technology Control Regime guidelines. (See ACT, April 2004.)
French nuclear assistance will contribute to medical and industrial isotope production and water desalinization, according to the French Atomic Energy Commission. Libyan nuclear technicians will also receive training, said French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jean-Baptiste Mattei, who was quoted by Reuters March 15.