U.S. finds advanced nuke centrifuges in Libya

Monday, December 22, 2003

The United States was stunned by the discovery in Libya of advanced centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium for nuclear weapons.

Officials said a team of U.S. and British specialists found that Libya had constructed a centrifuge that was enriching uranium. Several other centrifuges were also found as part of what they said was a complete infrastructure for the production of nuclear weapons.

The team was also led to a Libyan medium-range missile program that included the Scud C. The missiles, with a range of 500 kilometers, were said to have been obtained from North Korea.

The discovery stunned Western officials and intelligence analysts who had earlier determined that Libya's technological infrastructure was insufficient for a nuclear weapons program. Officials did not say how much uranium was enriched by Libya or which country assisted Tripoli. But one official said Iraq was not a source of Libyan nuclear expertise.

"The Libyan effort sought to develop a nuclear fuel cycle in cooperation with one or more countries," an official said. "There are many ways to interpret the data we've acquired, but I would say that they were no more than two years away from developing a nuclear bomb."

Over the last three months, Tripoli granted a British-U.S. team access to Libyan WMD and missile programs as part of that country's efforts to end sanctions by London and Washington. Officials said the regime of Col. Moammar Khaddafy provided what they termed "significant information" on Libya's nuclear and chemical weapons programs.

For years, Libya denied any WMD program, particularly regarding nuclear weapons. But in a statement over the weekend, the Bush administration said Libya has also acknowledged the development of biological weapons program as well as medium-range ballistic missiles to serve as delivery systems for WMD.

Officials said Libya contacted Britain and the United States in March 2003 and asserted its willingness to discuss Tripoli's WMD programs. They said Khaddafy ordered the relay of Libyan documents on his nation's WMD and missile programs to London and Washington.

U.S. and British experts, including those from the CIA, gained access to Libyan facilities and found uranium enrichment activity at more than 10 sites, officials said. They said the team, which visited Libya in October and December, was also shown what was termed significant quantities of chemical agents.

The visit by the U.S.-British team clarified many elements of Libya's WMD program, officials said. A recent CIA report that covered the period from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2003 asserted that Libya continued to develop its nuclear infrastructure. The report noted nuclear cooperation talks between Libya and Russia regarding the Tajura nuclear research center and a potential nuclear power reactor deal.

"Such civil-sector work could have presented Libya with opportunities to pursue technologies also suitable for military purposes," the CIA report said. "In addition, Libya participated in various technical exchanges through which it could have tried to obtain dual-use equipment and technology that could have enhanced its overall technical capabilities in the nuclear area."

On Saturday, Libya pledged to dismantle all of its WMD programs and declare nuclear activities to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Libya also pledged to destroy ballistic missiles with a range of more than 300 kilometers and a payload of 500 kilograms.

Other Libyan pledges included complete adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and its signing of the Additional Protocol. Tripoli was also said to have pledged to adhere to the Chemical Weapons Convention and destroy all chemical weapons stockpile.

U.S. officials said Libya would also allow immediate IAEA inspections and monitoring to verify Tripoli's pledges. They said this could pave the way for the removal of British and U.S. sanctions on the Tripoli regime.

"Should Libya pursue internal reform, America will be ready to help its people to build a more free and prosperous country," President George Bush said on Friday. "Because Libya has a troubled history with America and Britain, we will be vigilant in ensuring its government lives up to all its responsibilities."

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