Details Bedevil Libyan Grand Bargain

Alex Bollfrass

Almost four years after Libya first announced it would surrender its chemical and nuclear weapons programs in exchange for normalization of relations with the West, some weapons and materials officially renounced by Libya remain in the country, and Libyan frustration over “unmet promises” is growing.

In its trilateral agreement announced Dec. 19, 2003, with the United States and the United Kingdom, Libya pledged to eliminate all aspects of its chemical and nuclear weapons programs under international inspections and in line with applicable international accords. It further agreed to restrict the range of its ballistic missiles. (See ACT, January/February 2004. )

The most dangerous materials have been removed, and the weapon issue’s importance is fading in U.S.-Libyan relations. However, missiles and nuclear materials linger in Libya while plans for scientific cooperation have been derailed. Libyans no longer agree that their experience is a model of nonproliferation, despite public Bush administration claims to the contrary.

Disarmament’s Long Tail

The catalyst and centerpiece of the trilateral deal was Libya’s uranium-based nuclear weapons program, which Libya pledged to eliminate in its entirety. It has, but nuclear material of proliferation concern still remains in the country.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said Libya has been forthcoming, but the agency continues to investigate outstanding questions about the enrichment technology Libya acquired from the A.Q. Khan network. An IAEA official confirmed to Arms Control Today Aug. 16 that “verification of the correctness and completeness of Libya’s declarations related to its current and past nuclear-related activities is continuing.”

A version of the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, which substantially expands the IAEA’s ability to check for clandestine nuclear facilities or activities, has been in force in Libya since Aug. 11, 2006.

In March 2004, more than 15 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) were returned to Russia, and Libya’s 10-megawatt Tajura research reactor is being converted to operate on low-enriched uranium. However, an unknown amount of partially spent HEU from the reactor remains in Libya.

David Foley, a Department of State spokesperson, informed Arms Control Today Sept. 19 that, after the initial removal of nuclear materials to the United States, Libya “committed to sell its stockpile of approximately 1,000 metric tons of natural uranium yellowcake ore” but it has not done so. Yellowcake is a lightly processed form of uranium. Foley added, “We continue to encourage Libya to sell the yellowcake at the earliest possible date it can find a legitimate purchaser” and “Libya has been in discussion with potential buyers.” (See ACT, September 2007. )

Of its unconventional weapons programs, Libya’s chemical arsenal was the most advanced. In fact, Libya is widely believed to have used chemical munitions in 1987 during its lengthy war with Chad.

Having drained and destroyed its chemical munitions, Libya initially concluded an agreement with the United States to eliminate 23.6 metric tons of mustard gas and approximately 1,300 metric tons of precursor chemicals. However, Libya subsequently cancelled the contract. (See ACT, July/August 2007. ) Under its agreement with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, these chemicals must be eliminated by the end of 2010. Libya has yet to announce its plans for meeting this commitment.

In the trilateral agreement, Libya also obligated itself to a missile arsenal in conformity with the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The regime forbids ballistic missiles capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload a distance greater than 300 kilometers, in order to prevent their use as nuclear-weapon delivery vehicles.

Libya has eliminated most missile systems that violate the MTCR restrictions on flight range, including Scud-Cs. The three states concluded an “Agreement on the Disposition of Scud-B Missiles” in September 2004, allowing Libya to postpone the destruction of its remaining Scud-Bs, which exceed MTCR payload weight limits, until September 2009.

According to a British diplomat, Libya agreed to an annual inventory check of these missiles as long as it was allowed to purchase Russian Iskander missiles. The United States initially opposed this request on nonproliferation grounds. After months of delay, which eventually yielded U.S. approval, Libya decided not to seek these Russian missiles.

Annual inventory checks, which would update and verify the initial 2004 missile declaration, have not occurred, according to the State Department’s Verification and Compliance Bureau. In a Sept. 19 statement to Arms Control Today, the bureau’s spokesperson, John Herzberg, nonetheless expressed confidence that Libya would honor the agreement: “We remain convinced of Libya’s commitment to retire and destroy these missiles. Libya’s Scud-B’s are nearing the end of their lifespan and Libya is actively seeking to procure a replacement missile system.” The destruction of the old system will occur with U.S. and British supervision.

Investigations by the United States and the United Kingdom into the Libyan biological warfare program yielded evidence of some limited research efforts. Libya has pledged to honor its commitments under the Biological Weapons Convention and has submitted information about its activities through the convention’s system of confidence-building measures.

In another commitment to gain U.S. favor, Libya announced in May 2004 that it would cease military trade with countries Libya deemed a proliferation threat. At the time, Libyan and U.S. officials issued conflicting statements on whether this applied to trade with Syria. State Department officials reiterated in recent interviews that it did, while Ali Aujali, Libyan ambassador to Washington, protested that “it would not be fair” to refrain from military cooperation with Syria.

Several issues unrelated to Libya’s weapons activities that have obstructed relations in the past have moved toward resolution. The recent release of six medics from Libyan captivity and an agreed Libyan compensation to Lockerbie victims eased tensions, although it has not made the settlement’s final payments. The 1986 La Belle nightclub bombing remains a contentious point. So far, Libya has not agreed to compensate those victims.

Not a Model?

Libya has expressed dissatisfaction with the benefits it has received. Aujali complained to Arms Control Today Sept. 17 that “this is a great initiative, but it will not be a model for other countries [because] many promises were not met.”

Reports in the Arab press suggest Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi has refused to meet with visiting U.S. diplomats, including Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch in August, to signal his dissatisfaction with Libya’s treatment. Gaddafi did receive a letter in July from President George W. Bush through Frances Townsend, the chair of the U.S. Homeland Security Council, who remarked after the meeting that “the Libyans are frustrated and we’re frustrated because we both want more out of that relationship.”

Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom enunciated public promises to Libya beyond the prospect of better relations as long as Libya did not deviate from its disarmament plan. However, within the context of negotiations on the disarmament plan, the United States appears to have made some specific commitments.

For instance, in August 2005 the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced an arrangement promising cooperation “on research reactor applications, including nuclear medicine, and other applied scientific endeavors.” Two years later, the arrangement’s accomplishments enumerated by NNSA official John Broehm Aug. 13 are modest. The NNSA “has provided training, consultations, seminars, technical literature, and ‘train-the-trainer’ sessions through eight separate technical expert visits to Libya,” he said.

The State Department has rejected requests for comment on the lack of scientific cooperation beyond seminars and consultations that would engage former nuclear and chemical weapons scientists. State Department spokesperson Tom Casey announced this March, “We are in discussions with the Libyans regarding a project to help them develop a nuclear medicine center.” To date, these discussions have not yielded an agreement. Casey added that there are no plans for any agreements similar to those Libya signed with France, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom has been more forthcoming in rewarding Libya for forswearing weapons of mass destruction. It signed a security agreement with Libya in June 2006, promising to seek UN Security Council action if another state should attack Libya with chemical or biological weapons and to aid Libya in boosting its defense capabilities. (See ACT, September 2006. )

In March, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on scientific cooperation, outlining planned collaboration on issues beyond ongoing programs to redirect Libyan scientists to peaceful pursuits. Not all that was promised has been delivered. “We would of course say that we are paragons of virtue,” a British diplomat conceded Aug. 27, “but it’s no secret that this has not been a straightforward process.”

The bargain to usher Libya into the mainstream of states was struck by the United States and the United Kingdom, but others have been more enthusiastic in seizing the opportunities presented by it. France has signed arms deals and agreed to provide a nuclear reactor, and Russia has signaled strong interest in nuclear cooperation. (See ACT, September 2007 .)

Western diplomats have criticized what they described as the Libyan inchoate diplomatic style. One expressed frustration that “the United States and the United Kingdom have been wringing [their] hands over why the Libyans are not accepting money and then complaining about wanting more.”

The U.S.-Libyan relationship may also be hampered by a shortage of diplomatic representation. The U.S. embassy in Libya is temporarily housed in a hotel, and the nominated ambassador, Gene Cretz, has yet to be confirmed by the Senate. The Libyan embassy in Washington lacks a military attaché and other specialized staff knowledgeable about weapons issues.

Queried for details about the Libyan government’s unmet demands, Aujali asked for U.S. assistance in desalination, financing the destruction of weapons, and the easing of visa restrictions for Libyan nationals. If the United States did this, he observed, “the Western countries would find it a lot easier to talk to other countries like North Korea.”