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US Airlifts Nuclear Weapons Program Components Out of Libya - 2004-01-27

The United States has airlifted out of Libya components of the nuclear weapons program that country agreed to give up last month. The White House, which made the announcement, hailed Libya for its cooperation and said its good faith in dismantling weapons will be reciprocated.

The announcement was made several hours after the U.S. transport plane had landed in the central state of Tennessee carrying some 25 metric tons of Libyan weapons program components including centrifuge parts, uranium, and sensitive documentation.

The airlift was the most dramatic move since Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi concluded an agreement December 19 with the United States and Britain, to give up weapons of mass destruction programs in a bid to end two decades of international isolation and U.S. sanctions.

In a statement that included personal praise for the Libyan leader, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the flight reflects "real progress" in Libya meeting its commitments under the disarmament deal. "Colonel Gadhafi made a courageous decision to give up his weapons, and through this transparent process, the world can see that Colonel Gadhafi is keeping his commitment. As the president said on December 19, as the Libyan government takes these essential steps and demonstrates its seriousness, its good faith will be returned. Libya can re-gain a secure and respected place among the nations, and over time achieve far better relations with the United States," he said.

Spokesman McClellan said the airlift was only the beginning of the elimination of Libya's weapons and that there would be no immediate political reward.

But U.S. officials have said the disarmament process could lead to the eventual restoration of diplomatic relations with Libya and an end to sanctions dating back to the Reagan administration including a ban on travel by American citizens to the North African country.

Libya took a major step to break out of its isolation last August when it took formal responsibility for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland and agreed to compensate families of the victims.

At about that time it began a secret dialogue with the United States and Britain on giving up its weapons of mass destruction programs culminating in the December agreement.

Experts from the United States, Britain and the International Atomic Energy Agency have been in Libya for two weeks arranging the airlift and monitoring the disarmament process, which the White House said now includes the destruction of unfilled chemical weapons munitions.

Mr. McClellan said the evacuated nuclear materials had been taken to "a secure facility in Tennessee," which officials here identified as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The shipment included uranium hexafloride, which is used as a "feedstock" in the uranium enrichment process, as well as components for centrifuges, which separate weapons-grade uranium from a less-pure form.

Mr. McClellan said the U.S. transport plane also brought out "guidance sets" for the longer-range ballistic missiles Libya has agreed to give up.