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IAEA Probing Nuclear Suppliers for Libya - 2004-02-23

The head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency says that his organization needs to find out whether countries other than Libya attained nuclear warhead designs from a smuggling network headed by Pakistan's top nuclear scientist. Mohammed ElBaradei told reporters in Tripoli he hopes Libya's own nuclear weapons program will be dismantled later this year.

Mr. ElBaradei's two-day visit to Libya is officially focused on monitoring the progress of work to inventory and dismantle the country's illicit nuclear program. Libya surprised the world last December when it announced it had worked on nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and pledged to scrap them.

But officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency, traveling with Mr. ElBaradei, say that their main task in Libya is to seek more details from Libyan officials of who supplied what to Libya and other governments seeking to build weapons of mass destruction. Those officials say the information provided by Libya so far, as part of its commitment to disarm has been crucial in identifying the clandestine network that, for decades, provided Libya, Iran and North Korea with the technology and equipment to build weapons.

The U.N. agency is overseeing Libya's nuclear disarmament with the help of U.S. and British technicians and Mr. ElBaradei says he hopes the process can be completed as early as June. Massive amounts of equipment, including centrifuges which can be used to enriched uranium for use in a nuclear bomb has been taken to the United States for safekeeping, as have the designs for nuclear warheads obtained by the Libyans through the network headed by Abdul Qadir Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb.

A spokesman for the IAEA, Mark Gwozdecky, speaking earlier Monday from the agency's headquarters in Vienna, expressed satisfaction with the cooperation so far by the Libyans in stopping their nuclear program. "In particular, the good progress that we have achieved in terms of taking the sensitive centrifuge equipment, the weapons designs that we have discovered in Libya, taking them out of the country, getting them sealed and secured, and under analysis. But we still have a lot of work to do in terms of the remaining equipment and technology there, although I have to say things have been moving very smoothly and we are very cautiously optimistic," he said.

Still the Libyans have told Mr. ElBaradei that they want to keep some nuclear facilities for civilian purposes, but according to IAEA officials, have agreed to dismantle the most sensitive plant, a uranium conversion center.