Libyan disarmament leads to nuclear test ban treaty ratification

Published January 15, 2004

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — In a new signal that Libya is
serious about renouncing its weapons of mass destruction, U.N.
officials said yesterday the North African country has ratified the
nuclear test ban treaty.

Libya’s nuclear program was far from producing a weapon
and the treaty is 12 nations short of the 44 ratifications needed
for it to enter into force. Still, the announcement by the U.N.
agency overseeing the agreement appeared to be a further sign of
commitment by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to give up nuclear
weapons ambitions.

The Vienna-based agency — known as the Preparatory
Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Organization
— said that in ratifying the pact earlier this month, Libya
agreed to host a monitoring station at Misratah. That would be part
of a network of 337 stations being set up worldwide to verify
compliance with terms of the treaty.

Libya announced Dec. 19 it was giving up its weapons of mass
destruction after months of secret talks with the United States and
Britain. It said then it would sign the test ban treaty and become
a party to the convention prohibiting chemical weapons. Once it
enters into force, the treaty bans any nuclear weapon test
explosion in any environment.

A Western diplomat who works with the Preparatory Commission
said the ratification “fit the picture” of
Libya’s actions to prove it was serious since announcing it
was scrapping programs or stocks of nuclear, chemical or biological
weapons.

Since then, both the International Atomic Energy Agency —
the U.N. nuclear watchdog — and Washington have sent experts
to Libya to take inventory of Libya’s nuclear activities
ahead of supervising their destruction.

Differences continue on who should take the lead, however.

Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the
IAEA should assume that role. IAEA Director General Mohamed
ElBaradei also staked out his agency’s claim.

But U.S. administration officials insist that with U.S.-British
negotiations leading to the Libyan decision, Washington and London
should have primacy.

While the IAEA says Libya was nowhere near producing a weapon,
Washington and London say it was further along than the agency
realizes.

Both sides sought to play down the dispute yesterday.

A U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said
“we’re doing well” on bridging differences. IAEA
spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said the agency is in “frequent
contact with the British, U.S. and other governments to ensure a
common understanding of our respective roles … and
discussions are continuing over the coming days.”

Still, diplomats familiar with the agency said differences
continue, noting that IAEA officials were not invited to recent
talks between U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton and British
officials on Libya.

The diplomats, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said a
U.S.-British team and a group of IAEA experts planned new separate
inspection trips to Libya in the next two weeks. The two teams
would have no direct contact, although information would probably
be shared after they were debriefed, they said.

Several diplomats said if the dispute is not resolved, the
agency and a joint U.S.-British operation might end up performing
essentially the same tasks in verifying and destroying
Libya’s nuclear weapons program.

The dispute evokes differences over Iran. The U.S.
administration, which accuses Tehran of trying to build nuclear
weapons, was rankled at a report last year by ElBaradei that took
Iran to task for enriching uranium and other suspect activities but
said inspectors found “no proof” of an arms
program.

As part of attempts to ease international concerns, Iran last
year agreed to suspend uranium enrichment — a “dual
use” technology that can be used to generate power or create
the nuclear payload for weapons.

Diplomats on yesterday said Iran continues to build centrifuges
to enrich uranium, despite the suspension. One of the diplomats
said that while the IAEA is unhappy about that, it “knows
exactly what the Iranians are doing or not doing,” and is
generally convinced that Tehran is now hiding any aspects of its
nuclear activities.

“The mood is fairly optimistic because … there is
progress and cooperation,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical
Weapons said Libya has filed the necessary papers with the United
Nations and will formally become the 159th country to join the
Chemical Weapons Convention on Feb. 5.

Only 13 countries remain that have not signed or ratified the
convention, whose members are subject to surprise inspections for
banned weapons and chemicals.

Libya’s decision to join the weapons convention is
“a positive step that can help strengthen global and regional
efforts to prevent the spread and use of weapons of mass
destruction,” Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical
Weapons director Rogelio Pfirter said in a statement.

The group, based in The Hague, Netherlands, said it would work
closely with Libya, which it said must “declare and
destroy” its chemical weapons stocks.

The organization’s members include the world’s two
largest possessors of chemical weapons, the United States and
Russia.

The states that have not signed are Angola, Antigua and Barbuda,
Barbados, North Korea, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Niue, the Solomon
Islands, Somalia, Syria, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.