The International Atomic Energy Agency says Libya had been hiding its nuclear-weapons program until last Friday, but welcomes Tripoli's intention to co-operate with the agency.

The IAEA says its safeguards agreement with Libya, in place since 1980, has allowed inspectors to visit only one declared nuclear facility. The agency says it could not detect Tripoli's hidden nuclear program and should have been informed earlier.

IAEA spokesman, Mark Gwozdecky, says the important thing now is that Libya is co-operating and agreed to sign an additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty that will give inspectors access to undeclared facilities.

He said no date had been set for the signing of the protocol. "No timing as yet. They are indicating they are willing to do that and even prior to signing the protocol they are willing to do whatever it takes and give our inspectors whatever access they need to begin moving ahead with the work," he said.

Mr. Gwozdecky said that the head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, and a senior team of inspectors will visit Libya in the upcoming days to see what work needs to be done. Mr. Gwozdecky said that unlike South Africa, which voluntarily abandoned its advanced nuclear program, the Libyan nuclear capability is in the early stages of development. "South Africa had developed nuclear devices. Libya is telling us that they have never proceeded to that level and that what they have done in the nuclear realm was confined to some small-scale, pilot scale uranium enrichment activities, some uranium conversion activities but that they had never actually enriched any uranium and their small centrifuge cascade was now dismantled," he said.

Mr. Gwozdecky said it will take some time to verify if this is accurate.

Western diplomats in Vienna say that all nuclear-weapons programs begin by establishing capability through small-scale activities and that Libya was close to developing an atomic bomb.