WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 — President
Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain announced Friday that Libya's
leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, had agreed to give up all of his nuclear,
chemical and biological weapons, a step Mr. Bush said could allow Libya
to "regain a secure and respected place" among nations.
Libya's actions came after nine months of secret diplomacy, beginning
with an overture from Colonel Qaddafi to London and Washington just as
the invasion of Iraq was beginning.
Mr. Bush's aides, clearly seeking to build on the capture of Saddam Hussein
last Saturday, described the Libyan action as directly linked to the Iraq
war, suggesting that Colonel Qaddafi had decided to give up his weapons
aspirations rather than face off against the United States and its allies.
Speaking to reporters in a hastily called session in the White House press
room, Mr. Bush praised Colonel Qaddafi's agreement to open his country
to full inspections.
This is the first time Colonel Qaddafi has admitted to having such unconventional
weapons or programs to produce them, government and independent experts
But the details given by the White House indicated that for more than
two decades, Libya had deceived international nuclear inspectors who have
visited the country.
Like Iran, it hid facilities to produce nuclear fuel, though it did not
appear that the Libyans actually succeeded in making the kind of fissile
material needed to produce a bomb.
"Because Libya has a troubled history with America and Britain, we
will be vigilant in ensuring its government lives up to all its responsibilities,"
Mr. Bush said.
His announcement came just two days before the 15th anniversary of the
bombing of Pan Am 103, an act of terrorism for which a Libyan agent was
convicted two years ago.
In a clear reference to North Korea and Iran, two other countries that
are suspected of pursuing programs to develop unconventional weapons,
Mr. Bush added that "I hope other leaders will find an example"
in Libya's action.
In two trips to Libya, including one earlier this month, American and
British intelligence and weapons experts were given a tour of the country's
arsenal, reportedly including mustard gas, a World War I-vintage chemical
weapon, and materials for making nerve gas and missiles, the latter from
North Korea. None of these discoveries surprised the experts.
But one senior Administration official told reporters on Friday evening
that the Libyans had gotten "much further" in their nuclear
program than the United States had suspected, showing the Western visitors
centrifuges that could be used to produce highly enriched uranium.
The officials declined to say what kind of centrifuges had been found,
or what nations appeared to have helped Libya. Both North Korea and Iran
have similar programs under way, though the administration official said
that in Libya's case, Colonel Qaddafi's government had not declared that
it had actually produced any weapons-grade uranium. "That is something
we will be pursuing," the official said. He added that the United
States had learned a considerable amount about North Korea's missile trading
business in the course of the talks with Libya.
A British official said the Libyans had shown visitors 10 nuclear-related
sites, adding that while the country had not manufactured a nuclear weapon,
"it was close to producing one."
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency will be sent to
assess how close, and to monitor the dismantling of the facilities, British
and American officials said.
Not surprisingly, the White House described the surprise announcement
as a victory for Mr. Bush in facing down rogue states developing such
weapons. They also touted the Libyan move as vindication for the decision
to go to war against Iraq — where no unconentional weapons have
been found — because of the message it sent.
"In word and action, we have clarified the choices left to potential
adversaries," Mr. Bush told reporters. "And when leaders make
the wise and responsible choice, when they renounce terror and weapons
of mass destruction, as Colonel Qaddafi has now done, they serve the interest
of their own people and they add to the security of all nations."
The Libyan government, in a statement, said it had made the decision of
its own "free will."
The White House said that despite Libya's apparent renunciation of unconventional
weapons, Mr. Bush was not yet ready to lift American sanctions; United
Nations sanctions were removed on Sept. 12 after a settlement involving
the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 269 people.
In London, Mr. Blair said the Libyan overture on disarmament was a direct
outgrowth of the talks that led to the settlements over the bombing. Under
that agreement, Libya agreed to pay at least $5 million to the relatives
of each victim.
In January 2001, a Libyan military intelligence official was convicted
in the bombing, while an executive with the country's airline was acquitted.
Mr. Blair said Libya wanted "to see if it could resolve its weapons
of mass destruction issue in a similarly cooperative manner."
Libya's latest actions complicate the debate over the Iraq war for the
Democrats, particularly for Howard Dean, the apparent frontrunner in the
primaries, who has opposed the war and said recently that the capture
of Mr. Hussein had not made Americans any safer.
On Friday evening, though, many Democrats were calling Libya's renunciation
of its weapons systems significant.
Ashton B. Carter, an assistant secretary of defense under President Clinton
who is now co-director of the Harvard-Stanford Preventive Defense Project,
agreed that Iraq was a turning point in convincing Colonel Qaddafi to
give up his weapons.
"One certainly hopes that what we did in Iraq put countries like
Libya on notice that we're really serious about countering proliferation,"
said Mr. Carter, who has been advising Dr. Dean.
Some families of those killed on the Pan Am flight, now preparing to mark
the grim anniversary, were clearly taken by surprise by Mr. Bush's suggestion
that relations with Libya could markedly improve.
"I am in a state of horror and sickened shock," said Susan Cohen,
whose only child, Theodora, 20, was on the plane. "Everyone was surprised
"This was strictly a political, commercial decision," she said
in a telephone interview. "I'm not a fool. I know it's oil and money
interests. At the end of World War II, if Adolf Hitler could have been
brought back in the fold, would we have done it? And this isn't even the
end of the war."
Although Libya signed the international treaty banning nuclear weapons
in 1975 and a similar international ban on biological weapons in 1982,
independent weapons experts said Colonel Qaddafi had been trying to obtain
unconventional weapons for decades.
Writing in The Nonproliferation Review in 1997, Joshua Sinai, then a senior
analyst at the Library of Congress, concluded that Libya had in fact developed
a "rudimentary capability to produce such weapons," particularly
chemical weapons, by the late 1980's.
Libya is one of the few nations that have consistently refused to sign
the treaty banning chemical weapons. In a 1987 conflict with Chad, it
became one of a handful of states to use such weapons in war, when it
fired off Iranian-supplied mustard-gas bombs.
Washington has long accused Libya of producing blister and nerve agents
at secret plants in Tarhuna, 50 miles southwest of Tripoli, and at the
Pharma complex in Rabta, 75 miles southwest of Tripoli. Most of the chemical
weapons seen by the visiting inspectors were at Rabta, one senior official
Though Libya signed the treaty banning germ weapons in 1982, questions
have remained about whether it was complying with the agreement.
Intelligence agencies have alleged, for instance, that Colonel Qaddafi
attempted to recruit South African scientists to help him develop biological
weapons. And American intelligence agents concluded earlier this year
that Nizar Hindawi, a senior scientist who once led Iraq's germ weapons
program, had tried to emigrate to Libya in the mid-1990's, officials said.
But many analysts continued to say that if Libya had a weapons program
at all, the effort was very primitive, and years from producing biological
Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting for this article.