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Last Updated: Monday, 22 December, 2003, 17:36 GMT
Libya faces early nuclear checks
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi
Gaddafi's pledge was met with praise around the world
The UN nuclear watchdog says it may begin inspecting Libyan nuclear sites as early as next week, hours after Tripoli said it would allow snap checks.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said he would visit Libya for talks.

"Inspections will follow, as early as next week," he said.

His comments follow Libya's offer to scrap its weapons of mass destruction programme and sign up to the IAEA's inspections protocol.

Mr ElBaradei said he would lead the first inspection mission - which will include senior IAEA officials - to take stock of the state of Libya's nuclear facilities.

He described the visit as a positive step on the part of Libya "to rid itself of all programmes or activities that are relevant or could lead to the production of weapons of mass destruction".

Libyan Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem told the BBC: "We agree to the commitment that we are taking from the International Atomic Energy Agency and we are willing to abide by its rules and honour our commitments."

He described the decision to sign the protocol as "courageous" and "timely".

Inspections

The agreement on inspections was reached during talks on Saturday between a high-level delegation from Libya and Mr ElBaradei.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair said he applauded Libya's move

Libya is already a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

But the protocol allows for tougher, short-notice visits of nuclear sites by IAEA experts.

The BBC's Bethany Bell in Vienna says signing the protocol would be a logical next step for Libya after it had agreed to immediate international monitoring of its facilities.

Iran signed the protocol on Thursday, amid international concerns about the nature of its nuclear programme.

It is believed that Libya was close to developing a nuclear weapons capability.

The dismantling of Libya's nuclear programme is likely to be a long, drawn out process:

  • Mr ElBaradei will go to Libya for general talks and request an overall account of Libya's nuclear programme
  • Libya will account for its entire nuclear programme
  • The IAEA will conduct a series of inspections, to verify that what the Libyans declare is accurate
  • The dismantling process will be carried out, probably by Libyans
  • There will be continuous monitoring by the IAEA to ensure that no new nuclear programmes are set up.

It is not clear when Libya will sign the protocol.

Call to Israel

Asked if similar rules should be applied to Israel, Mr Ghanem said Libya wanted to see peace throughout the Middle East.

He called on Israel to abandon its weapons of mass destruction.


The prime minister denied that Libya had supported terrorists and said it was "participating in the fight against terrorism".

The Libyan Government's priority is to improve the country's economy and the living standards of the Libyan people, he added.

Libya's pledge to abandon its weapons of mass destruction programmes followed nine months of secret negotiations with Britain and the United States.

'Historic'

On Friday UK Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the decision by Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi as "an historic one".

US President George W Bush said Tripoli had made "the wise and responsible choice", while France described the announcement as a "success for the entire international community".

European Commission President Romano Prodi, for his part, said the move marked "a further step toward establishing the right conditions for the restoration of full diplomatic relations between Libya and the European Union" .

Several states in the Middle East - including Egypt and Iran - also welcomed Libya's announcement and urged Israel to follow suit by eliminating any banned weapons.

Japan has called on North Korea to follow Libya's example.

"North Korea should take the decision (by Libya) seriously and adopt a co-operative policy with the international community over the nuclear issue," Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters.

"Libya has judged that co-operating with the international community would lead to its prosperity," Mr Koizumi said.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Libyan Prime Minister, Shukri Ghanem
"We are willing to abide by the [International Atomic Energy Agency] rules"


The BBC's David Chazan
"Mohamed ElBaradei is planning to take UN inspectors to Libya within days"



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