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Libya-IAEA Nuclear Talks Start in Vienna - 2003-12-21

Initial meetings between Libyan officials and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency could be the beginnings of a long and complex process to verify Tripoli's nuclear ambitions.

The head of the atomic agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, opened talks Saturday with Libya on the process of future inspections of Tripoli's nuclear activities. IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said the opening meetings were with a high-level delegation.

"I can tell you that it was a delegation of six led by a Dr. Matug, who is the - I have heard him described as the deputy prime minister, but the way he formally refers to himself is the Secretary of the National Board of Scientific Research," said Mr. Gwozdecky.

The talks lasted just one hour, and the delegation flew straight back to Libya.

Mr. Gwozdecky did not give details of the talks, but diplomats say they most likely covered the future involvement of the agency in verifying that Libya's nuclear activities are purely peaceful.

Similar work was carried out by the U.N. nuclear watchdog in 1991 after South Africa announced it would voluntarily abandon its nuclear-weapons program. Senior IAEA inspectors visited the country to collect information on nuclear material, lists of imports, laboratory programs and engineering facilities. They also carried out environmental sampling in the Kalahari desert.

In the case of South Africa, the IAEA placed nuclear facilities under safeguards with regular inspections and either destroyed weapons-related equipment or converted it to peaceful nuclear usage. The process took years.

Tripoli joined the IAEA in 1963 and signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1975. It now says it will sign an additional protocol allowing for thorough and unannounced inspections of nuclear sites and related locations.

On Thursday, Iran signed the additional protocol, adding to pressure on Israel, India, and Pakistan to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its additional protocol.