Nuclear watchdog agrees role in Libya




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 19 January 2004

The United Nations nuclear watchdog reached an agreement with the UK and US on Monday under which officials from the two countries will be responsible for destroying Libya’s nuclear capability.

Observers from the International Atomic Energy Agency will now have the role of verifying that the nuclear programme has been dismantled, as it had done in Iraq during the 1990s.

The agreement follows several weeks of friction between the two countries and the IAEA over how extensive the UN agency’s role would be. Libya agreed in December to abandon its weapons of mass destruction programmes, after nine months of secret negotiations with London and Washington of which the IAEA was unaware.

At a meeting in Vienna on Monday, John Bolton, US under-secretary for arms control and international security, and his UK counterpart William Ehrman, agreed the division of roles in the dismantlement of the programme with Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA director-general.

US and UK officials will be responsible for destroying and removing the nuclear material, while the IAEA will verify this has been done, officials close to the negotiations said on Monday.

Mr ElBaradei had said this month that the IAEA “has the mandate, and we intend to do it alone”, prompting Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, to telephone him and suggest that discussion of roles should not be done in public.

The IAEA will now draw up an inventory of all aspects of Libya’s nuclear programme from 10 sites. Its officials have so far visited nine, and plan to visit a uranium “yellow cake” storage facility when its officials return to Libya.

The agency’s resentment over the further diminution of its role follows its differences with the US and UK over their assessments of Iraq’s pre-war weapons of mass destruction capability, and its widely publicised differences with Mr Bolton over Iran’s nuclear strategy.

Differences between the two governments and the IAEA over Libya emerged soon after the agency sent a team to assess the extent of its WMD programmes.

Intelligence officers involved in the secret negotiations said that Libya had developed centrifuge technology and was able to enrich uranium. However, diplomats have said that the programme had not yet achieved the capacity to enrich uranium.

An official close to Monday’s negotiations in Vienna said: “The scale of Libya’s aspirations was big . . . But this was a programme that had not reached an industrial scale.”


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008