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UN agency to play role as Libya disarms

VIENNA -- United Nations nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei said yesterday he had agreed with senior US and British officials that his agency would oversee the dismantling of Libya's atomic arms program by US and British specialists.

Diplomats said ElBaradei had received assurances that the UN agency, squeezed out of Iraq by the United States and out of North Korea when Pyongyang expelled its inspectors in 2002, would play a leading role in Libya.

"I think we have an agreement on what needs to be done. The agency's role is very clear. We need to do the verification," ElBaradei told reporters outside the US mission to the UN in Vienna.

"I think we reached a very good agreement."

ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, made the comments after a three-hour meeting with John Bolton, the US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and his British counterpart, William Ehrman.

Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy on Dec. 19 pledged to abandon efforts to acquire nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in a surprise deal with old adversaries Washington and London.

Western diplomats said the meeting seemed to have ended in a deal that would satisfy the UN, Washington, and London.

The IAEA, Britain, and the United States reached the accord despite a recent public disagreement over the scope of Libya's nuclear program, with the IAEA concluding that the North African country was years away from producing a weapon while London and Washington suggested it was close to doing so.

ElBaradei said the key aspects of the deal were that the IAEA would verify that Libya's atomic program has been properly dismantled while US and British specialists handled the work of physically destroying Libya's nuclear capabilities.

"We clearly need British and American support with logistics and I think the meeting was trying to coordinate our cooperation," he said. "We are trying to move fast. It's important that we move fast."

Bolton echoed ElBaradei's upbeat description, telling reporters before he left Vienna: "It was a very constructive meeting. I think we're all on the same page with the IAEA."

A US official said that, under the agreement discussed yesterday, the IAEA would account for the removal of nuclear materials from Libya, could observe the unsealing of materials in Libya and reseal them itself, and would have full access to the materials once they are removed from Libya.

The official, who asked not to be identified, would not say when the materials would be removed or where they would go, but he said that once Libya allowed them to be taken away, Washington could quickly improve ties with Tripoli.

"If we see significant progress in the near term, we will swiftly reciprocate with the Libyans," the US official said. "This could be a win-win solution for the United States and Libya. So far, we have seen nothing but encouraging signs, but this will be a crucial [period] where we will find out: Are the Libyans going to let us take this material out?"

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