- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

On Monday, the Bush administration opened another door to Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya by ending the longstanding commercial air service ban there. The move follows the resumption of formal diplomatic relations in June, when the U.S. liaison office in Tripoli opened, and the renewal of economic ties in April, when the Bush administration eased economic sanctions and allowed Libya’s first U.S.-bound oil shipments since 1986. In December, Libya announced its intention to give up weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In the following months, a flurry of diplomatic activity and inspections ensued.

This is the latest in a series of Bush administration efforts to announce that cooperation pays dividends, and that current or would-be proliferators and seekers of WMD are better advised to permit vigorous inspections and disclose past activities than to play nuclear roulette in defiance of international will. If a tyrant like Col. Gadhafi can be brought to reason, then so can a pariah like Syria or perhaps even North Korea. The message would be quite powerful.

The question is whether that’s the message the other rogues are receiving. The answer hinges on whether the inspections regime will be able to verify Col. Gadhafi’s reputed conversion as an honest participant in the international community, or whether he will be able to cheat by pursuing weapons covertly and sponsoring terrorism again, all while pocketing some handsome dividends. If it’s the former, the Bush administration will have done a great service to our security and the world’s. If it’s the latter, the consequences would be disastrous.

There is evidence of progress on the Libyan front, not least the unprecedented access that Libyan officials have granted inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in recent months and the reportedly significant intelligence that Libya has granted inspection authorities and analysts as they unravel the now-famous Pakistan-Libya-North Korea proliferation axis. The problem is, the IAEA’s concerns over shortcomings in Libya’s rapprochement efforts are serious. In a report written in the lead-up to the agency’s board meeting last week, the IAEA expressed reservations about Libya’s compliance, citing Libyan scientists who offered conflicting accounts as to the origin of the uranium in the country’s program and Libya’s inability to account for certain pieces of enrichment equipment that may have been stolen or lost.

In a case like Col. Gadhafi’s, the standards for compliance must be extraordinarily high. The proliferators are watching. We are encouraged to see the progress the Bush administration is making as it brings Libya into the WMD inspections regime — but only if Col. Gadhafi’s days of intrigue are assured to be over.

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