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IN THE NEWS – Libya’s Weapons Programs - 2003-12-27

Broadcast: December 27, 2003

This is IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English.

Libyan officials announced last week that their country is ending its program to develop weapons of great destruction. They said Libya plans to give up the program and work instead on development projects. Libya also said it would welcome inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The announcement was the result of a nine-month long diplomatic effort by Libya, Britain and the United States. British officials say it began in March, when Libya’s Intelligence Chief sent a message to the British government. He said Libya wanted to start talks with Britain and the United States about its effort to possess biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

British and American teams met with Libyan representatives in Britain earlier this year. Weapons experts visited Libya in October and again this month. The experts observed Libya’s weapons programs and missile-building activities. They reported that Libya was close to developing a nuclear weapon.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw praised Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for his country’s decision. Mister Straw said the decision was the result of secretive, quiet diplomacy. He said both sides were able to develop trust in each other over many months.

In Washington, Bush administration officials said the reasons for Libya’s decision included the war in Iraq and international pressure. The officials welcomed the decision because it will give them the chance to learn who was helping Libya with its weapons programs. Libya also has offered to provide all the details of its programs.

Some diplomats say the Libyan move is an attempt to end seventeen years of American economic restrictions. They say Mister Gadhafi is attempting to open Libya and its oil industry to American investment. They also say he wants to improve his image around the world. In September, the United Nations ended its restrictions after Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing of an American passenger airplane over Scotland fifteen years ago.

Libya is still on an American list of countries that support terrorism. President Bush has said the United States and Britain will watch to make sure that Libya acts on its offer to give up its weapons of great destruction. He says leaders whose nations give up banned weapons will find an open path to better relations with the United States.

This week, a Bush Administration official said the United States may consider lifting the restrictions against Libya. He also said any change in policy would depend on the actions of the Libyan government.

British officials say the Libyan agreement is an example of what can be gained from diplomatic efforts with nations such as North Korea and Iran. This may already be happening. Recently, Iran agreed to surprise visits by inspectors from the United Nations nuclear agency.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS was written by Nancy Steinbach.