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Libya Agrees to Give Up WMD

December 19, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Libya agrees to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction. The first word of that came tonight from British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London. He called it an historic and courageous decision. President Bush followed with his announcement.


I’ve called you here today to announce a development of great importance in our continuing effort to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Today in Tripoli, the leader of Libya, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, publicly confirmed its commitment to disclose and dismantle all weapons of mass destruction programs in his country. He has agreed immediately and unconditionally to allow inspectors from international organizations to enter Libya. These inspectors will render an accounting of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and will help oversee their elimination.

Colonel Gadhafi’s commitment, once it is fulfilled, will make our country more safe and the world more peaceful. Talks leading to this announcement began about nine months ago when Prime Minister Tony Blair and I were contacted, through personal envoys, by Colonel Gadhafi. He communicated to us his willingness to make a decisive change in the policy of his government. At the direction of Colonel Gadhafi himself, Libyan officials have provided American and British intelligence officers with documentation on that country’s chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missile programs and activities. Our experts in these fields have met directly with Libyan officials to learn additional details.

Posing proliferation is one of the highest priorities of the war against terror. And this danger has dramatically increased when regimes build or acquire weapons of mass destruction and maintain ties to terrorist groups. The United States and our allies are applying a broad and active strategy to address the challenges of proliferation through diplomacy and through the decisive actions that are sometimes needed.

We obtained an additional United Nations Security Council resolution requiring Saddam Hussein to prove that he had disarmed. And when that resolution was defied, we led a coalition to enforce it. All of these actions by the United States and our allies have sent an unmistakable message to regimes that seek or possess weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons do not bring influence or prestige. They bring isolation and otherwise unwelcome consequences. And another message should be equally clear. Leaders who abandon the pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them, will find an open path to better relations with the United States and other free nations.

With today’s announcement by its leader, Libya has begun the process of rejoining the community of nations. And Colonel Gadhafi knows the way forward. Libya should carry out the commitments announced today. Libya should also fully engage in the war against terror. Its government, in response to the United Nations Security Council’s Lockerbie demands have already renounced all acts of terrorism and pledged cooperation in the international fight against terrorism. We expect Libya to meet these commitments as well.

As the Libyan government takes these essential steps and demonstrates its seriousness, its good faith will be returned. Libya can regain a secure and respected place among the nations and over time, achieve far better relations with the United States. And I hope that other leaders will find an example in Libya’s announcement today. Our understanding with Libya came about through quiet diplomacy. It is a result, however, of policies and principles declared to all.

Over the last two years, a great coalition of nations has come together to oppose terror and to oppose the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We’ve been clear in our purposes; we have shown resolve in word and action, we have clarified the choices left to potential adversaries. And when leaders make the wise and responsible choice, when they renounce terror and weapons of mass destruction, as Colonel Gadhafi has now done, they serve the interest of their own people and they add to the security of all nations.

Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: For more, we go to Terence Taylor. He’s a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, and now heads the Washington office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Mr. Taylor, welcome.

Among you professionals, as the president just said, quiet diplomacy was going on. It was a surprise to most everyone else, but was it to you and your fellow professionals?

TERENCE TAYLOR: Well, I think that it should come out just like as quickly as this was a bit surprising. But it has been clear for a little while that President Moammar Gadhafi had taken a strategic decision to, as it were, rehabilitate his country back into the normal community of nations, and wanting to give up his links with terrorism and so on. That’s been developing for some time, particularly since, of course, he has cooperated over the issue of the Lockerbie disaster — that’s the bombing of the Pan Am aircraft — and delivered up people who were responsible for that action and also cooperated on paying compensation. I think that was the big signal over the past few years, that Libya was going in this direction.

JIM LEHRER: I have a piece of wire copy here that says the United Kingdom says Libya was close to developing a nuclear weapon. Is there anything you can add to that?

TERENCE TAYLOR: Well, I certainly… it was certainly clear, there was evidence that they were developing weapons in all departments, weapons of mass destruction nuclear, biological and chemical. They were certainly looking into all of those.

Their chemical capabilities were pretty evident. The Libyans were involved in the use of chemical weapons in southern Sudan in one stage during the 1980s. So it was quite clear they had substantial programs under way. It will be fascinating to see what unfolds through the inspection process.

JIM LEHRER: When you say substantial, what do you mean?

TERENCE TAYLOR: Well, I mean operational weapons in the case of chemical weapons; I don’t believe they had operational nuclear weapons, but they certainly appeared to have a program. On the biological side, less is known about that, but it appears they’ve announced they’re going to dismantle those programs. So there must have been some programmatic activity at least.

JIM LEHRER: Now, when they agreed, as Colonel Gadhafi did to allow inspectors in and give them unfettered access, what does that actually mean in a practical sense?

TERENCE TAYLOR: Well, in a practical sense, I hope something different to what we seen in Iraq where I had my own experience as an inspector there. But I suspect the agencies involved, the International Atomic Energy Agency, should be given completely free rein, unrestricted access wherever they want to go in Libya, and the same, I imagine it will engage the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – that’s the sort of verification and inspection agency that oversees the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans chemical weapons, so those two agencies no doubt will be involved. The area which is less certain is that dealing with missiles, for example, the longer range missiles and also the biological weapons because there’s no inspection agency dedicated to that process.

So I expect what we will see is some ad hoc arrangement looking something like the previous commissions we’ve seen, for example, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission that was in Iraq until last March, or something like the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq in its earlier guise. So there will have to be some combination, I suspect, overseen by some kind of commission. So no doubt people are getting very busy right now working out what kind of commission will be constructed.

JIM LEHRER: And the expectation would be though, as you say, unlike Iraq, that the inspectors would arrive and they would be literally shown freely and openly everything Iraq has, correct?

TERENCE TAYLOR: Everything that Libya has, indeed.

JIM LEHRER: I mean Libya, I’m sorry, excuse me.

TERENCE TAYLOR: That was the idea behind the inspections in Iraq. The Iraqis’ obligation was to show and tell and not for the inspectors to carry out a cat and mouse game as Dr. Hans Blix, the head of the last inspection commission in Iraq described it and so all the signs are that the Libyans are going to be genuinely open. But of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We’ll have to wait and see when we get the inspection system on the ground. I think whoever is going to be running this, it is going to be a tough job to coordinate everything, coordinate all the information, the intelligence, to make this an effective process right from the start; a fully integrated nuclear, biological, chemical and missile inspection commission.

JIM LEHRER: From your perspective as a professional in this field, how important a development is this?

TERENCE TAYLOR: This is an extremely important development; particularly if the inspection people get there and there is genuine openness and these programs are genuinely dismantled, it is an incredibly important example to others around the world. And I think it shows that a country, once it’s taken the strategic decision and wants to join the normal community of nations, if it does this in an open way, contrary to the way that Iraq tried to duck and bob and weave and avoid their obligations and Libya has a substantial history of assisting international terrorism. There is a record that is perfectly clear.

We all know about, we don’t know all the details, and maybe we may know more in due course, so this is a country that has serious weapons of mass destruction program, serious active links in the past with international terrorism disarming itself of these particular weapons. I think it’s a very important development, indeed; particularly in the way it has evolved through a quiet diplomatic process, not through coercion in the direct sense as one saw in the case of Iraq.

JIM LEHRER: As a matter of history, has anything like this ever happened before?

TERENCE TAYLOR: I think… I’ve been racking my brains before I came to your studio to think if there was another example like this in relation to weapons of mass destruction. I think not. I think this is a first in this particular way, not as a result of the end of a conflict. As I say, I think the thing one must look at is how the transparency — is this genuine transparency? Are they going to be genuine and open? Are the inspectors going to be dealt with in a way that they can fully do all their work and confidently pronounce on the outcome?

JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Taylor, thank you very much. I appreciate your coming to a studio on such short notice so quickly. Thank you very much.

TERENCE TAYLOR: My pleasure.