U.S. seized 1,000 centrifuges bound for Libya

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

A U.S.-led nonproliferation team guided the seizure of a shipment of 1,000 centrifuges meant for Libya, last October, that would have provided a huge boost for its developing nuclear weapons programs.

Libya has since agreed to give up its weapons of mass destruction program and to cooperate with the West in ending similar programs in other rogue states.

U.S. officials said Libya last year ordered the centrifuges which were assembled in Malaysia according to a design obtained from Pakistan. The officials confirmed a report in the London Guardian that a ship carrying the centrifuges was seized last October on a German ship bound for Libya.

Gas-powered centrifuges are required for the enrichment of uranium, a key element in the assembly of nuclear weapons. Thousands of centrifuges are needed to enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapons program.

At the same time, a new study reports that Libya and Saudi Arabia helped finance Pakistan's nuclear and missile programs, Middle East Newsline reported. The report by the Washington Institute said Saudi and Libyan representatives attended the firing of Pakistan's Ghauri intermediate-range missile in 2002.

The officials said Libyan ruler Moammar Khaddafy envisioned an accelerated nuclear weapons program that would quickly provide Tripoli with an infrastructure required to complete the nuclear fuel cycle. They said Khaddafy purchased complete centrifuges and parts from the black market in cooperation with Asian countries.

In October 2003, the U.S.-led interception force seized a German ship with the centrifuges that was bound for Libya. The capture of the ship, which was taken to Italy, came as Libya completed negotiations to allow a British-U.S. team to visit Libyan missile and weapons of mass destruction facilities.

The London-based Guardian daily reported that Libya was believed to have provided information to the United States that enabled the capture of the German ship. The newspaper said Khaddafy wanted to demonstrate his sincerity in ending his WMD programs.

The Libyan effort marked a departure from that of Iran and North Korea. Both countries were said to have developed and assembled the centrifuges after obtaining the design from Pakistan.

"Saudi Arabia and Libya have often been reported as early financial backers of Pakistan's proliferation efforts," the Washington Institute report, authored by London-based researcher Simon Henderson, said. "Libya's nascent nuclear program is now believed to have been based on Pakistani-type centrifuges.

Moreover, Saudi officials reportedly mused about alternatives to a U.S. nuclear umbrella just before the de facto Saudi leader, Crown Prince Abdullah, paid an official visit to Pakistan last October." On Monday, British and U.S. officials met in Vienna with the International Atomic Energy Agency to discuss Libya's nuclear program. The IAEA and United States have differed sharply in their public assessments of Libya's nuclear program.

"This is part of a process of a number of steps that we are taking to work closely with the Libyans, for the U.S. and the UK to work closely with the Libyans to assist them in implementing the decisions that they made to get rid of their programs for weapons of mass destruction and missiles," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

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