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US Cautious About Preliminary UN Inspections in Libya - 2003-12-31

The United States says it will take a considerable amount of time to determine whether Libya is being completely forthcoming in disclosing its nuclear program. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the issue by telephone Tuesday with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammed ElBaradei, who has just completed an inspection visit to Libya.

Mr. ElBaradei, whose team was allowed to visit four previously secret Libyan nuclear sites, says he received good cooperation from the Libyan government and that its nuclear weapons effort appears to have been only at an early stage.

But U.S. officials are cautioning against any premature conclusions about Libyan cooperation and say U.S. experts can be expected to begin their own inspection visits to Libya, perhaps with British colleagues, early in the new year to pursue unanswered questions about the nuclear program.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, on his first day back at the State Department after prostate-cancer surgery, discussed the Libyan visit by the IAEA team by telephone with Mr. ElBaradei.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli declined to provide details of the conversation. But he made clear the U.S. view that uncovering the full extent of Libya's weapons of mass destruction activities will be a time-consuming process: "I would caution anybody against rushing to any conclusions," he said. "This is going to take a long time. It's not, as the result of one visit, that we are going to have a complete picture or be able to come to any final conclusions about Libya's programs. It's really far too early at this point to reach any firm conclusions about the extent of these - of the program."

Libya announced December 19 that it would dismantle its secret weapons of mass destruction programs in a move that followed nine months of secret negotiations with U.S. and British officials.

It was a further step by the Moammar Gadhafi government toward ending decades of international isolation and sanctions this only months after taking responsibility for the 1988 bombing of a U.S. PanAm jetliner and agreeing to pay compensation.

The action on the jetliner attack prompted the permanent lifting of United Nations sanctions against Libya. But wide-ranging U.S. economic sanctions remain in place, and Bush administration officials say they won't be lifted until Libya fulfills its weapons promises and deals with other U.S. concerns, including alleged continuing Libyan links to terrorist groups.

Secretary Powell last month renewed a key sanction, barring U.S. citizens from visiting Libya, but he said that restriction will now be reviewed on a quarterly basis.