- The Washington Times - Friday, December 19, 2003

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has agreed to dismantle his country’s clandestine weapons of mass destruction program and allow international weapons inspections, a move President Bush said was the result of “quiet diplomacy” that will make the world “more peaceful.”

“Because Libya has a troubled history with America and Britain, we will be vigilant in ensuring its government lives up to all its responsibilities,” Mr. Bush said. “Yet as we have found with other nations, old hostilities do not need to go on forever.”

Mr. Bush in Washington and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London announced the deal reached during nine months of secret negotiations in simultaneous news conferences yesterday.

Mr. Bush made it clear that he thinks that his efforts to first use diplomacy, then military might, to force Saddam Hussein to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction program sent a message to other leaders who would follow his path.

“Those weapons do not bring influence or prestige,” Mr. Bush said. “They bring isolation and otherwise unwelcome consequences.

“And another message should be equally clear: Leaders who abandon the pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them, will find an open path to better relations with the United States and other free nations. With [yesterdays] announcement by its leader, Libya has begun the process of rejoining the community of nations,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Blair said Libya’s decision is an example of how disarmament can occur with other nations.

“This courageous decision by Colonel Gadhafi is an historic one,” Mr. Blair said. “I applaud it. It will make the region and the world more secure. It demonstrates that countries can abandon programs voluntarily and peacefully.”

Libya reached out to the United States and Britain nine months ago, at about the same time that U.S. and British troops began their 21-day assault that led to the fall of Saddam’s Ba’athist regime in Baghdad.

The Libyan news agency Jana Tripoli quoted Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam as saying Libyan experts had shown their U.S. and British counterparts “the substances, equipment and programs that could lead to production of internationally banned weapons.” These included a “centrifuging machine and equipment to carry chemical substances.”

Libya would rid itself of all that “with its own free will,” the news agency quoted the foreign minister as saying in a statement monitored by the BBC.

For decades, the United States has considered Libya a rogue nation that supports terrorism and has long suspected if of trying to obtain or develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons — accusations Libya had always denied.

In 1986, President Reagan bombed Libya in retaliation for a bombing of a West Berlin nightclub by Libyan-sponsored terrorists that killed two American soldiers.

Libya also took responsibility for downing a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 and agreed earlier this year to pay $2.7 billion in damages to the families of the bombing’s 270 victims.

Since then, the African desert country has reached out to the United States and Britain to improve relations, and Col. Gadhafi was one of the first Arab leaders to condemn the September 11 attacks.

One senior Bush administration official, who spoke yesterday on the condition of anonymity, said Libya’s nuclear weapons program was more advanced than British and U.S. intelligence agencies first suspected.

“I think we were not surprised on the chemical side,” the official said. “On the nuclear side … my understanding is that they did have a much further advanced program.”

That program included previously unknown centrifuges that could be used to enrich weapons-grade uranium. It is not clear whether Libya had produced or purchased any uranium, but the full inspections cooperation pledged by Col. Gadhafi, the official said, should clear that up.

Libya admitted to producing mustard gas and exploiting its agricultural program to develop other chemicals that could be used as weapons. The country said it had been cooperating with North Korea to improve its weapons programs and the range of its missile arsenal.

Getting Libya to admit to these programs and dismantle them without the use of force, the administration officials said, is the result of Mr. Bush’s “broad and active strategy to address the challenge of proliferation.”

“I think this is an intelligence victory; it’s a diplomatic victory and it’s a victory for allied cooperation,” the official said. “The president’s policies on non- and counter-proliferation have achieved a major victory.”

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the announcement a “historic milestone” and said Mr. Bush deserves the credit.

“I have no doubt that the president’s bold leadership since September 11, 2001, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the global war on terror will continue to pay dividends as was clearly demonstrated with today’s announcement,” Mr. Roberts said.

Most of the slate of nine Democratic candidates vying to run against Mr. Bush in next year’s presidential election had no immediate reaction to Libya’s admission yesterday.

The Democratic presidential hopefuls have charged that Mr. Bush needs to work with international organizations to disarm nations of their weapons of mass destruction.

While calling Libya’s announcement “good news,” Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, one of the nine Democrats seeking the party’s presidential nomination, said the fact Libya was able to advance its nuclear program so far shows the international rules aren’t working.

“President Bush now should pursue a comprehensive strategy to keep the world’s worst weapons out of the worst hands, including a new global nuclear compact,” Mr. Edwards said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, called the development “welcome news.”

“Libya has taken steps over the last few years to improve its international standing, including taking responsibility for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am passenger jet over Lockerbie, Scotland,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “If Libya follows through on its commitment to dismantle its weapons programs and rejects terrorism, it would be on its way to joining the circle of civilized nations.”

Mr. Bush hinted that he would like to see Libya continue “internal reform” so that it might “regain a secure and respected place among the nations.”

“The Libyan people are heirs to an ancient and respected culture, and their country lies at the center of a vital region,” Mr. Bush said. “As Libya becomes a more peaceful nation, it can be a source of stability in Africa and the Middle East.”

The senior administration official said that “we’re prepared to talk” about lifting economic sanctions that the United States has had on Libya for 17 years. The U.N. Security Council ended sanctions against Libya on Sept. 12, after Col. Gadhafi’s government took responsibility for the Pan Am bombing.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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