Libyan official balks at destruction of WMD

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Libya has raised new conditions that could delay a British-U.S. effort to dismantle Tripoli's missile and weapons of mass destruction arsenal.

The new terms come as a senior Libyan official asserted that a British-U.S. team in the North African country would not be allowed to begin the dismantling of Libya's missile and WMD assets. Neither London nor Washington has confirmed this.

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Rahman Shalgam said Tripoli would not allow the British-U.S. team to dismantle its missile and WMD arsenal.

Shalgam's assertion disputed that of British and U.S. officials, who said the British-U.S. team would dismantle and destroy Libyan WMD and extended-range missiles. The officials said the IAEA would monitor the effort, Middle East Newsline reported.

Shalgam said the IAEA would also not engage in dismantling components of Libya's nuclear program.

"This [visit] would be a verification of commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its Additional Protocol," Shalgam said.

The Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would enable the International Atomic Energy Agency to undertake rapid and intrusive inspections of suspected nuclear facilities. Shalgam did not say when Tripoli would sign the protocol.

Seif Al Islam, the son of Libyan ruler Moammar Khaddafy who helped arrange the WMD deal, said Libya would have to be compensated for the destruction of any nuclear equipment. He suggested that Libya's nuclear program had been also meant to power water desalination plants.

In December, Libya announced its agreement to end its medium-range and WMD programs. Tripoli also said it would sign the Additional Protocol of the NPT.

On Sunday, a U.S. congressional delegation began talks in Tripoli with Libyan leaders. The delegation did not cite Shalgam's statement.

"We are extremely excited about the direction your leader has taken in recent months," Rep. Curt Weldon, an Armed Services subcommittee chairman, said. "We want to be friends with the Libyan people and work together with them on common concerns."

Libya's agreement to dismantle its missile and WMD arsenal has angered several Arab countries, particularly neighboring Egypt. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the state-owned Egyptian media have criticized the Libyan decision and warned that it would benefit Israel, said to have a nuclear weapons program.

Shalgam said Libya's new relations with the United States would not affect Tripoli's ties with the Arab world. He cited Egypt's close military cooperation with Washington.

"There should be a practical framework for relations with Egypt without angry responses from the press in Egypt or in Libya," Shalgam said.

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