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Coming Clean: Background

December 30, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Now tracking down Libya’s nuclear weapons program. First, some background.

GWEN IFILL: United Nations nuclear inspectors arrived in Libya last weekend to inspect four nuclear sites. The visit was Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi’s first step toward keeping his promise to disclose all elements of a formerly covert nuclear weapons program. The surprise concession was the fruit of nine months of negotiation with Qaddafi, the United States, and Britain.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: He’s 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.

GWEN IFILL: Qaddafi said he was eager to rid his country of U.S. embargoes and international pariah status. International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohamed el Baradei, who arrived Saturday to lead the first inspection mission, praised Libya for its cooperation. He said the country was far from producing nuclear arms.

MOHAMED EL BARADEI: What Libya has done so far, at least– and we are going to verify that– that initiated an enrichment program at a very low level of development. It’s a program which is still at a very nascent stage as I stated before. It’s a program that has not enriched uranium, it’s a program that has not entered into an industrial scale facility.

So it’s mostly at the pilot stage, it’s mostly at the laboratory stage. As I have said here on many occasions, the system cannot detect easily concealable small items, any verification system cannot do that. Even in Iraq, we never claimed that we can see one single centrifuge or a computer study, but what we can see is if the country moves into an industrial scale, if the country starts to build a program for a weapon, then hopefully we can detect that program.

GWEN IFILL: And after his return from Tripoli, El Baradei told the associated press his agency doesn’t want any help from the U.S. in Libya. He said: “…as far as I’m concerned, we have the mandate, and we intend to do it alone.” But United States officials have said that Libya’s program is more extensive than the IAEA claims, and the Bush administration wants to send U.S. and British experts to the country investigate.

ADAM ERELI: I would caution anybody against rushing to any conclusions. This is going to take a long time. It’s not as a result of one visit that we are going to have a complete picture or be able to come to any final conclusions about Libya’s programs. It’s really far too early, at this point, to reach any firm conclusions about the extent of the program. I think it will take at least a couple more months for the IAEA to develop a full picture of Libya’s nuclear program.

GWEN IFILL: The spokesman also said Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke to El Baradei today, and will continue to.