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Libyan Nuclear Inspections Could Begin Next Week - 2003-12-22

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says inspections of Libya's nuclear facilities could begin next week.

Mohamed ElBaradei said Monday at the U.N. agency's headquarters in Vienna that he will visit Libya next week along with a team of experts to start assessing the country's nuclear arms program.

Earlier today, Libyan Prime Minister Shukri Mohammed Ghanin told British radio that his country is ready to sign a protocol allowing surprise U.N. inspections of its nuclear sites.

Western diplomats said Tripoli's acceptance of unannounced U.N. arms inspections was expected, following word that Libya had decided to abandon all of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. After that announcement Friday, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi quickly sent his chief of scientific research to Vienna for talks with Mr. ElBaradei.

Libya has previously signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and now says it will sign the additional protocol allowing surprise inspections.

U.S. and British officials say months of secret diplomacy involving Colonel Gadhafi and other Libyan officials preceded Libya's decision to abandon its weapons of mass destruction.