- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The United States intercepted an illegal shipment of thousands of parts of uranium-enrichment equipment bound for Libya in October, leading to Tripoli agreeing to cap its weapons program, U.S. officials confirmed yesterday.

Senior State Department official John R. Bolton plans to fly to London today to make plans with Britain for holding Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to his pledge to dismantle his nuclear-weapons program.

There is an extensive black market that provided Libya with tens of millions of dollars in equipment, but there now is an aggressive program of interdicting delivery and the administration intends to pursue middlemen actively, a U.S. official said.

The seizure was just the tip of the iceberg in the spread of dangerous equipment to rogue states, but it sealed Col. Gadhafi’s decision to announce on Dec. 19 he was dismantling the expensive program, the official said on the condition of anonymity.

The intercepted parts were being delivered to Libya on a German-owned freighter that was diverted to an Italian port.

The United States and Britain plan to send experts to Libya this month to analyze the extent of Libya’s nuclear program and its quest for biological and chemical weapons, as well as modern missiles.

Top Bush administration officials are convinced the programs are far more extensive than outlined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and said this week that the United States and Britain would pursue their own joint program to uncover Libya’s operation and hold Col. Gadhafi to his promise to uproot development of weapons of mass destruction as well as missiles.

The interception of centrifuge parts bound for Libya was first reported in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. The White House and State Department then confirmed the report with few details.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said Tuesday he did not want American or British help on the ground in Libya.

“As far as I’m concerned, we have the mandate, and we intend to do it alone,” he said.

But senior American officials confirmed an active U.S. and British role and said Libya’s programs were far more extensive than the U.N. agency had disclosed.

“The IAEA is in there because of what we uncovered,” said one U.S. official on the condition of anonymity. “The Libyans came to us and the British.”

The shipment originated in a Persian Gulf port, but the officials declined to identify the country yesterday. Nor would they say which country or countries may have supplied the centrifuge parts, citing ongoing investigations.

While uranium-enrichment is also a step in the process of producing nuclear energy, Libya has no such civilian program. Libya admitted the equipment was for its nuclear-weapons program, a senior U.S. official said.

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