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Reporters Get First-Hand Look at Libyan WMD - 2004-03-16


The U.S. government has displayed equipment from Libya used in that country's nuclear program. The White House brought reporters for a first-hand look at what it calls "declassified" weapons of mass destruction. The vestiges of the war against terrorism came down to a display of 48 wooden crates and boxes containing equipment seized when Libya gave up its nuclear weapons program.

Spencer Abraham heads the U.S. Department of Energy, he dismisses comments from critics who say the Bush administration is "showcasing" the equipment to make up for not finding weapons in Iraq. "This is a big win in the war on terror. It is, I think, a clear indication of the programs we have implemented to address proliferation of the appropriate approach the president is taking," he says. "The proliferation security initiative, our non-proliferation programs and making it very clear to people they have two choices: they can voluntarily abandon their programs as Libya has done, or if they refuse to do that, they will conceivably have to deal with the world taking action."

The White House says the move marked a key step by Libya, long branded as a rogue state for sponsoring attacks like the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing, to reintegrate itself into the international community.

Over the years, Libya got the equipment from an underground supply network headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the man credited with developing Pakistan's nuclear bomb, who was pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf in January.

"The principal supplier for the entire program was AQ Khan and company," says Robert Joseph, a top official at the U.S. National Security Council. "There were other suppliers for other elements for the program. Khan provided the design, the technology, the expertise, the equipment, primarily for the centrifuges. He also provided the warhead design."

The U.S. State Department's Donald Mahley said Libya's decision to dismantle its program came just in time. "If the Libyans had gotten the additional shipment that was interdicted, then it is safe to say that they would have had in hand, all of the components necessary to create weapons grade material, and obviously a design which would have allowed them to convert that weapons grade material into a weapon," he says. "Now how quickly they would have operated with that is a matter of energy and a matter of intent and a matter of how many 20 hour days are you prepared to work in a row?"

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi first began negotiating with the United States and Britain to halt his nation's drive to develop nuclear and chemical weapons and the long-range missiles last year.

In recognition of Libya's efforts, the Bush administration announced last month that it will allow U.S. oil firms to begin negotiating to resume operations. It also eased restrictions on American travel to Libya and decided to let the North African country establish diplomatic presence in Washington.

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