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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 December, 2003, 16:33 GMT
Why Gaddafi gave up WMD
By George Joffe
Centre of International Studies, Cambridge University

Libya's leader Colonel Gaddafi
Gaddafi had a lot to gain by giving up WMD
Although President George W Bush has sought to portray Libya's willingness to admit inspectors to examine its programmes of weapons of mass destruction as a success for American policy, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi may well feel that the success is really his.

After all, the next stage should be that, soon, the US will renew formal diplomatic relations - and that has been the Libyan objective since 1992, when United Nations sanctions were imposed.

Indeed, the Gaddafi regime has been trying for this since 1986, when US sanctions forced American oil companies to leave the country.

Although Libya's idiosyncratic leader had not bothered overmuch when the US broke relations in 1980, the departure of the oil companies also meant the loss of American oil technology upon which Libya relied.


The issue became more acute after Washington bombed Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986, demonstrating to the colonel that support for international terrorism was a dangerous policy.

That became a crisis in 1992, after UN sanctions were imposed on Libya for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie four years earlier.

Reform is afoot in Libya
The universal oil and travel sanctions against Libya gave Libyans a sense of isolation that many deeply resented.

Throughout the 1990s, Libya sought to ease the burden, succeeding only at the end of the decade when it surrendered the two suspects for the Lockerbie bombing for trial in the Netherlands, after Britain had persuaded the US to accept the plan.

So over the past four years Libya has re-established links with Europe. But unilateral American sanctions remained and those imposed by the UN regime were only suspended, not ended.

Libya knew that it would have to pay compensation for the Lockerbie affair, renounce terrorism and accept formal responsibility for what had happened.

Lengthy negotiations over the past year resulted in a compensation settlement three months ago and the end of the international sanctions.

The US demanded still more, however, before it would end its own sanctions.

It insisted on political and economic change in Libya as well as renunciation of the weapons programmes that Washington insisted Tripoli was continuing - although Britain believed such programmes were merely "aspirational".

Reform 'vital'

Libya would also have to help in finally solving questions about Lockerbie which had been left unanswered by the trial.

This was no problem for Libya as its rulers knew that basic reform was essential.

Libya had... proposed inspections, so the American acceptance of its offer probably says more about President Bush's success in countering his many domestic critics than about overcoming Libyan resistance to inspections

Although Colonel Gaddafi himself was deeply suspicious of the necessary reforms, his advisers told him that economic success and diplomatic respectability depended upon them.

Libya had already renounced terrorism and even the colonel had to face the fact that stagnation in the Libyan economy was not just the result of sanctions but had much to do with public economic inefficiency.

Domestic pressures, not least an unsuccessful Islamist insurgency at the end of the 1990s, meant that political change was vital, too.

Economic interests

Last year, a new prime minister, Shukri Ghanem, an economist, was appointed with an explicit reform agenda.

Behind him - and radical supporters of the colonel - are reformers determined on economic efficiency and political change.

Libya seeks foreign investment, not just in the oil sector, where European companies are rushing for concessions.

Now, Colonel Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, who is close to the reformers, has persuaded his father that human rights abuses must end and that political reform is needed too.

Over the alleged weapons programmes, Libya had, nine months ago, proposed inspections.

So the American acceptance of its offer probably says more about President Bush's success in countering his many domestic critics than about overcoming Libyan resistance to inspections of its WMD programmes.

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