Agreement reached on dismantling nuke program

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

VIENNA, Austria -- The United States and the U.N. atomic agency agreed Monday to work together in examining, cataloging and scrapping Libya's nuclear weapons program, ending weeks of squabbling over who has the authority to do so. The deal was reached by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, senior British arms expert William Ehrman, and U.S. undersecretary of state John Bolton, a critic of the IAEA policy on Libya and Iran. Following the meeting at the offices of the U.S. mission to the IAEA, ElBaradei said the agreement gave his agency the role of establishing the scope and content of Libya's nuclear program.

Once IAEA verification was complete, U.S. and British experts would remove suspect materials from the North African country, he said.

Diplomats familiar with the agency said the IAEA also was claiming the right to verify that all contentious equipment and material had been removed or rendered unusable.

Tensions over who does what in Libya had spilled over into heated public discussion in recent weeks, with the IAEA insisting it had the mandate to take the lead on nuclear issues.

Bush administration officials had said U.S. and British experts should have the leading role in identifying and destroying Tripoli's nuclear weapons program because U.S.-British talks with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi led to his decision to renounce weapons of mass destruction.

Differing characterizations of the state of Libya's program had fueled the dispute: The IAEA has said Libya was nowhere near producing a weapon, while Washington and London contended it was further along than the agency realizes.

But both sides were eager Monday to put the disputes behind them.

"It was a very productive meeting. I think we're on the same page with the IAEA on this very important project," Bolton said after the session at the U.S. mission in Vienna.

ElBaradei called the meeting "very constructive," adding: "I think it went very well.

"We have agreement on what needs to be done," he said. "Clearly, the agency's role is very clear -- that we need to do the verification. A good part of the program needs to be eliminated, it needs to be moved out, and we clearly need the British and American support with logistics."

Diplomats said both sides had made concessions, but suggested some differences remained.

"The Americans are not interested in having their hands tied," said one, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said that while the agency would be given the mandate to verify the state of Libya's weapons activities, U.S. and British teams would essentially also be conducting their own investigations.

The dispute evoked differences over Iran. The Bush administration, which accuses Tehran of trying to build nuclear weapons, was rankled at a report last year by ElBaradei that took Iran to task for enriching uranium and other suspect activities but said inspectors found "no evidence" of an arms program.

Gadhafi announced last month his country was giving up its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Libya recently ratified the nuclear test ban treaty and next month will become a party to the convention prohibiting chemical weapons.

Once it gets enough support worldwide to enter into force, the treaty bans any nuclear weapon test explosion in any environment.

ElBaradei and IAEA experts recently visited four once-secret nuclear facilities in the Libyan capital of Tripoli. Since then, both IAEA inspectors and joint U.S.-British teams have been to Libya to take stock of its nuclear programs.

"This is our job," ElBaradei said Monday, alluding to verification. "We need some logistical support, some equipment ... we need to coordinate our work and the logistics support that can be provided by the U.S., the British or anyone else."

Libya has promised to cooperate with the IAEA and said it would sign a protocol allowing inspections at short notice, similar to the one signed last month by Iran.

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