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IAEA Chief Heads to Libya - 2003-12-27

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, headed to Libya Saturday to meet with the country's leader, Moammar Gadhafi, to begin the verification process of Tripoli's past and present nuclear activities.

The United Nations' nuclear chief, Mohammed ElBaradei, is visiting Libya together with a senior team of arms experts in the wake of Colonel Gadhafi's pledge to dispose of his weapons of mass destruction and open the door to international scrutiny.

Talks are expected to center on the intrusive, short-notice U.N. inspections that are needed to verify that Libya's nuclear program is being dismantled.

An IAEA spokesman, Mark Gwozdecky, says officials need to know the exact nature of Libya's nuclear capability that was hidden from the nuclear agency until last week.

"They've [the Libyans] admitted to having a small uranium centrifuge program and to have worked on uranium conversion activities," he said. "We're not sure what other elements they may have had, but this looks at least to be a program in the early stages."

Mr. Gwozdecky says the IAEA will take steps to eliminate any weapons-related activities Libya might have.

The IAEA has learned that Tripoli has worked for more than a decade on the development of a uranium enrichment program and violated international obligations by importing natural uranium. Libya says it now wants to scrap its weapons program, and will sign an additional protocol allowing the IAEA to visit undeclared nuclear facilities for thorough and unannounced inspections.

The IAEA says such inspections could begin as early as this coming week.

Mr. ElBaradei is expected to report to the IAEA's board of governors in February on the progress of the agency's work in Libya.