The White House announced April 23 that it is easing additional sanctions on Libya as a reward for Tripoli’s progress toward dismantling its chemical and nuclear weapons programs and eliminating its long-range missiles. Libya had pledged to end the programs in December 2003.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said President George W. Bush “terminated the application of the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) with respect to Libya and the Department of the Treasury has modified sanctions imposed…under the authority of the International Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).” The decision will permit “the resumption of most commercial activities” between the two countries, McClellan added.
The ILSA allowed the United States to punish foreign companies for certain investments in Libya’s oil and gas industries, as well as for providing goods or services contributing to Libya’s ability to acquire chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. President Ronald Reagan imposed sanctions against Libya under the IEEPA in January 1986 after its involvement in terrorist attacks in Europe the previous month.
Despite Washington’s decision, Libya remains on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Countries on that list are subject to several sanctions, including prohibitions on arms exports, economic assistance from the United States, and Department of Defense contracts. The United States is also required to oppose loans to such countries from international financial institutions and impose export controls on dual-use items.
McClellan said that “the necessity of ending any tie to terrorist groups or activities will continue to be a central issue in relations with Libya.” Tripoli agreed to terminate its support for terrorism as part of its December agreement.
Libya also remains subject to some other sanctions. Direct flights are still prohibited, and Libyan assets in the United States remain frozen.
Still, McClellan stated that Libya “has taken significant steps [toward] eliminating weapons of mass destruction programs,” praising Tripoli’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention and adoption of an additional protocol to its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement. The latter gives the IAEA additional authority to check for clandestine nuclear activities.
The United States has removed all of Libya’s longest-range missiles and most elements of its nuclear weapons program. Libya has destroyed its chemical weapons-capable munitions and agreed to destroy the remaining chemical agents. (See ACT, April 2004.)
Washington’s decision, which Libya’s official JANA news agency called a “victory” the same day it was announced, follows a February announcement that the United States was removing all travel restrictions to Tripoli and allowing “U.S. companies with pre-sanctions holdings in Libya...to negotiate the terms of their re-entry into operations” there.
The possibility of ending sanctions has provided leverage to U.S. diplomacy with Tripoli. Former State Department official Flynt Leverett wrote in January that the United States offered to lift sanctions as “an explicit quid pro quo” for Libya’s dismantling its weapons, although a senior administration official denied in December that “specific discussion[s] about lifting sanctions” took place. Additionally, Secretary of State Colin Powell implied during a February congressional hearing that U.S. officials explicitly held out lifting sanctions as a reward for Tripoli’s continued implementation of its December commitments.
The United Nations permanently lifted its sanctions on Libya in September 2003 after Libya complied with its remaining obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions. (See ACT, October 2003.)
McClellan also announced other U.S. diplomatic efforts. Specifically, the United States will “drop [its] objection” to Tripoli’s efforts to join the World Trade Organization, and the Department of State “intends to establish a U.S. liaison office in Tripoli, pending congressional notification.”
The United States closed its embassy in Tripoli in 1980 but currently has an interests section in the Belgian Embassy there. An interests section is a small diplomatic mission housed in another country’s embassy, used for contacts between countries that do not have full diplomatic relations. A liaison office flies the U.S. flag and is an intermediate step to full diplomatic relations.
McClellan added that Libya’s disarmament efforts have “set a standard that we hope other nations will emulate.” U.S. officials have repeatedly held up Libya’s “strategic decision” to eliminate its weapons programs as a model for other countries, such as Iran and North Korea, to follow. (See ACT, April 2004.)
UN Security Council Praises Libya
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council issued a statement April 22 welcoming Libya’s disarmament efforts and taking “note” of a March resolution adopted by the IAEA Board of Governors. That resolution found that Libya’s past clandestine nuclear activities “constituted non-compliance” with its IAEA safeguards agreement but also praised Libya’s subsequent cooperation with the agency, as well as its dismantlement efforts. (See ACT, April 2004.) IAEA safeguards agreements are designed to provide assurance that states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty do not divert civilian nuclear programs to military purposes.
Because of Libya’s cooperation, the resolution requested that IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei report Libya’s noncompliance to the 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. The Security Council did not do so, instead “commending” Libya for its cooperation in its recent statement.
Washington has been trying to involve the Security Council in condemning two other countries’ nuclear programs. The United States wants the IAEA board to find Iran in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement but has not yet been able to persuade the board to do so (see page 26). The IAEA referred North Korea to the council in February 2003, but no action has been taken. (See ACT, April 2003.)