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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 December, 2003, 04:17 GMT
Talks held on Libyan disarmament
Libya's leader Colonel Gaddafi
Gaddafi's government negotiated with the US and UK
Senior Libyan officials have met the head of the UN's nuclear agency to discuss the elimination of Tripoli's weapons of mass destruction programme.

The talks in Vienna came just a day after Colonel Muammar Gaddafi revealed the programme - and promised to end it.

Libya's decision, which followed nine months of secret talks with the West, has received international praise.

Few details emerged from the Vienna meeting but Libya has said it will accept strict nuclear safeguards.

Ploughshares

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohammed ElBaradei, met Libya's secretary of the National Board of Scientific Research "to discuss the Libyan Government's desire to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction programme," said IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky.

He would not comment on the discussions but said there could be a statement next week.

The BBC's Bethany Bell in Vienna says the two sides have to work out how to verify Libya's promise and what shape a future inspection regime would take.

The Libyan Government's decision to dismantle its weapons programmes voluntarily is almost unprecedented.

HAVE YOUR SAY
It is an example to all nations that political differences can be resolved peacefully
Ahmed Bishari, Tripoli, Libya

The only other country to have done this was South Africa, which destroyed its nuclear weapons programme under IAEA supervision after the collapse of the apartheid regime.

President George Bush said Libya's move set an example to other countries on how to build better relations with the US.

"Leaders who abandon the pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them will find an open path to better relations with the US and other free nations," he said.

The Libyan Prime Minister, Shukri Ghanem, said his country had decided that its best interests lay in developing its economy and improving the living standards of its people.

"We are turning our swords into ploughshares and this step should be appreciated and followed by all other countries," Mr Ghanem told the BBC.

The UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, speaking on the BBC's Today programme, applauded what he called Colonel Gaddafi's "huge statesmanship and courage".

He said a team of experts which had paid visits to Libya in October and earlier this month had been given access to projects at more than 10 sites, including at least one involving uranium enrichment.

They had discovered that:

  • Libya had not acquired a nuclear weapons capability, but was close to developing one.

  • It had significant quantities of chemical agent and bombs designed to be filled with chemical agent.

  • There were research centres with the potential to support biological weapons-related work.

  • Facilities existed where missile research development work had been conducted.

Libya said in its statement that it had agreed to the immediate international monitoring of its facilities.

"Libya has decided, with its own free will, to get rid of these substances, equipment and programmes and to be free from all internationally-banned weapons.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair applauded the move
"It will take all these measures in a transparent way that could be proved, including accepting immediate international inspections," the statement said.

Libya has promised to restrict itself to missiles with a range that comply with the standards of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) surveillance system.

This imposes a limit of 300 kilometres for missiles carrying a payload of 500 kilograms.

It also promised to negotiate a new deal with the IAEA and provide guarantees on biological weapons.

Under scrutiny

The US and its allies have long suspected that Libya had secret chemical and biological weapons programmes, but Tripoli repeatedly denied such allegations saying it only had facilities for pharmaceutical or agricultural research.

A welcome seasonal present for President Bush and Prime Minister Blair
BBC News Online's Paul Reynolds

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair gave details of the secret negotiations in a statement on Friday.

"Libya came to us in March following successful negotiations on Lockerbie to see if it could resolve its weapons of mass destruction issue in a similarly co-operative manner."

Mr Blair contrasted Libya's voluntary relinquishment of weapons of mass destruction with Iraq's defiance, which led to military action and the toppling of leader Saddam Hussein.

Compensation call

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin described the deal as "a success for the entire international community".

However, he urged Libya to "implement without delay" its commitment to compensate the families of those killed in the 1989 bombing of a French airliner over Niger.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Libya's announcement would be seen as a positive move, if it were indeed realised, and would pave the way for the country to rejoin the international community.

The BBC's Jill McGivering in Jerusalem says Israel will be hoping that this deal will set a precedent, adding to the pressure on other countries in the region like Iran and Syria to comply with international obligations.

But she says Israel, too, may face increased pressure about its own weapons programme - a subject it refuses to discuss.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's David Loyn
"The leader who was once called a mad dog by an American president is now being called a statesman"


UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
"This decision by Colonel Gaddafi will make the region and the world more secure"



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