- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2003

TRIPOLI, Libya — The Libyan government, in a major step toward disarmament, yesterday for the first time let U.N. nuclear officials inspect four sites related to its nuclear-weapons program, all previously cloaked in secrecy.

The visits led by Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), are part of an effort to ensure that the North African state has no weapons of mass destruction.

The inspections followed the surprise announcement by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi more than a week ago that his country would abandon its pursuit of such weapons.

Mr. ElBaradei visited the four nuclear sites in the capital, Tripoli, accompanied by a team of inspectors from the Vienna, Austria-based agency.

He spent several hours touring the facilities, said his spokesman, Mark Gwozdecky, who described the sites as new facilities that “have never been mentioned in the media before.”

No further details were given on the sites or about what the inspection teams discovered.

As a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Libya is required to declare all sensitive nuclear installations to the United Nations.

On his way to Tripoli on Saturday, Mr. ElBaradei said Libya appeared to be far from producing nuclear arms.

Mr. Gwozdecky said Mr. ElBaradei would meet with Matouq Mohammed Matouq, a Libyan deputy prime minister and head of the country’s nuclear program, to develop a plan for future inspections.

Some of the inspectors also met with Libyan officials on “technical matters concerning the history of [Libyas] entire program” related to weapons of mass destruction, the spokesman said. Mr. ElBaradei did not take part in this meeting, he said, providing no further details.

Mr. ElBaradei is expected to meet with Libya’s prime minister and foreign minister today before returning to Vienna. Mr. Gwozdecky said some inspectors will remain in Libya until Thursday to inspect other sites.

Col. Gadhafi’s pledge to scrap his country’s weapons programs is the latest in a series of moves to end the North African nation’s international isolation and to shed its image as a rogue state. It was the result of eight months of covert negotiations and inspections with British and U.S. intelligence officials.

Libya, long on the U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism, has portrayed the move as a strategic step, insisting it never produced any weapons of mass destruction.

“We didn’t arrive to the point of weaponization,” Abdel-Rahman Shalqam, the foreign minister, said in a news conference on Saturday.

Mr. Shalqam reaffirmed that Libya is committed to full transparency and would sign a protocol allowing wide-ranging inspections on short notice, promises that Col. Gadhafi made during his announcement more than a week ago.

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