| Muammar Gaddafi
Vienna, Dec. 21 (Reuters): Libya has agreed to allow snap UN nuclear arms inspections, just a day after declaring it was giving up plans to build an atomic bomb, a Western diplomat said today.
Libya, widely praised for announcing on Friday that it was ditching efforts to build the bomb and other banned weapons, told the head of the UN nuclear watchdog yesterday it was ready to sign up to inspections, the diplomat said.
The surprise moves, which could lead to the end of US sanctions and the return of US oil companies, mark an about-face for Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan leader for 34 years.
“We are turning our swords into ploughshares and this step should be appreciated and followed by all other countries,” Libyan Prime Minister Shokri Ghanem said of Friday’s statement, adding economic progress was more important than arms.
But Britain, which played a key role in talks that persuaded Tripoli to abandon its arms ambitions, said the fate that befell Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein may have prompted the move.
Defence secretary Geoff Hoon suggested the fortunes of the Iraqi leader, overthrown by US and British forces in April and finally captured hiding in a dirt hole a week ago, might have been different had Baghdad been more forthcoming over arms.
“We showed after Saddam Hussein failed to cooperate with the UN that we meant business and Libya, and I hope other countries, will draw that lesson,” he told Sky television.
The US and Britain, which was pivotal in isolating Libya after the Lockerbie bombing 15 years ago today, accused Saddam of developing banned arms and invaded in March. None of the weapons has been found.
US intelligence officials said Gaddafi seemed the driving force behind Libya’s decision and his motivation may have ranged from concerns about the Iraq war and a desire to end isolation to concerns about domestic threats to his own rule.
Tripoli acted swiftly to show it was serious. A top official met the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna yesterday to discuss its proposals to accept stricter IAEA nuclear safeguards.
The Vienna-based diplomat said Libya told Mohammed ElBaradei it would open its atomic facilities to unannounced inspections, a deal going beyond the basic demands of the main nuclear arms control treaty.
Libya is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, allowing limited IAEA inspections, but said it was now willing to sign the treaty’s Additional Protocol that allows far more intrusive checks. Iran signed it on Thursday after pressure from Washington over an alleged arms programme.
Libyan foreign minister Mohamed Abderrhmane Chalgam said in Algiers: “Our delegation is still in negotiations in Vienna.”