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Libya OK's short-notice nuclear checks

TRIPOLI -- Libya said yesterday it would agree to uninhibited UN nuclear inspections, allowing short-notice checks of such sites. It also called on Israel to start dismantling any weapons of mass destruction.

"Libya will cooperate and deal with the [International Atomic Energy Agency] with complete transparency . . . and Libya will sign the additional protocol," Foreign Minister Mohamed Abderrahmane Chalgam said at a news conference.

"This is a clear message to everybody, especially the Israelis; they must start dismantling their weapons of mass destruction," he added.

Chalgam stressed that Libya's weapons programs had been at a laboratory level and that his country had never created nuclear weapons with any of the know-how it had acquired.

He echoed remarks made by the head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog who said on his way to Libya that the country did not seem to have been close to building an atomic bomb.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the IAEA, said there were no signs that Libya had enriched uranium, a step that could be the first move to a bomb.

"From the look of it, they were not close to a weapon," he said in an interview while en route to Tripoli. ElBaradei said after talks in Tripoli that Libya had promised to dismantle all its weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, and nuclear.

ElBaradei said at the joint news conference with Chalgam that a team of IAEA specialists, who have led inspections in Iran and Iraq, would begin technical talks with the head of Libya's nuclear program today.

Tripoli, which has signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, will now sign the so-called NPT Additional Protocol, permitting the more intrusive, short-notice checks.

ElBaradei said he would present Libya's intention to sign the protocol to the next IAEA governors meeting in March. Tripoli can sign the document after, if the board gives the go-ahead.

ElBaradei said it was unclear who provided Libya with its nuclear technology. Similar to Iran, Libya told the IAEA it got its enrichment centrifuges from "middlemen" on the black market.

"As we understand, it was through the black market, through the middle people, so the countries of origin [of the technology] were not necessarily aware," he said.

In Iran's case, a combination of Pakistani and other middlemen, aided by a handful of Pakistani scientists appear to have provided Iran with the crucial know-how and hardware to build its enrichment program, diplomats have said.

One diplomat close to the IAEA said the investigation into the origin of Libya's enrichment program might provide some answers to the question of where Iran got its technology.

Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy's oil-rich state, long on the US list of sponsors of terror, said this month it was ditching plans to build a nuclear bomb and other banned weapons.

The move marks an about-face for the mercurial Khadafy, who seized power 34 years ago in the desert nation of 5 1/2 million. He now wants trading benefits, including an end to US sanctions.

Asked when Tripoli began looking into developing nuclear weapons, Chalgam said in English: "I don't exactly remember exactly when we started such programs, but I think it was before 10, 11, or 15 years."

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