IAEA begins Libya nuclear inspections
( 2003-12-29 09:45) (Agencies)
The U.N. nuclear watchdog has asked Libya to hand over key documents and to facilitate interviews with Libyan individuals as part of its investigation into the North African state's atomic weapons program.
"Inspections did commence on Sunday. Dr ElBaradei and his team went to four nuclear sites previously unvisited and all four were in the Tripoli area," IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky told reporters.
Earlier this month Libya acknowledged trying to develop banned weapons, including nuclear arms, and invited inspectors in.
After the site visits, the IAEA held technical talks at the foreign ministry, where they were given a detailed briefing on the history of Libya's nuclear program.
"We were trying to establish a baseline to obtain key documents or maps...(and) to lay out a gameplan for the coming days involving what additional sites need to be visited, what individuals we would like to interview and key documents that would help to fill in any gaps in our understanding," an IAEA official said.
The IAEA experts were expected to hold further technical talks on Monday. It was unclear if ElBaradei, who leaves for Vienna on Monday, would have an opportunity to meet with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Some of the IAEA team will remain in Tripoli after ElBaradei departs to get the inspection process up to full speed. The IAEA team in Tripoli now includes senior experts who have led nuclear inspections in both Iran and Iraq.
The diplomat did not say if the IAEA team visited the site where Libya had its uranium enrichment centrifuges. IAEA officials have said this was something the inspectors were especially interested in viewing.
Enrichment is a process of purifying uranium for use as nuclear fuel or in weapons. Getting a hold of weapons-grade material is considered the biggest obstacle for any country trying to build an atomic weapon.
Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abderrhmane Chalgam said on Saturday Tripoli had never crossed the line from laboratory experiments into actually making weapons.
Gaddafi's oil-rich state, long on the U.S. list of sponsors of terrorism, said earlier this month it was abandoning plans to build an atomic bomb and other banned weapons.
Although the United States and Britain had suggested Tripoli was close to developing a weapon, ElBaradei told Reuters in an interview en route to Libya he did not think the North African state had been close to building a bomb.
"From the look of it, they were not close to a weapon, but we need to go and see it (their nuclear program) and discuss the details with them," he said.
Libya said it would demonstrate its transparency by signing a protocol
allowing short-notice inspections of its atomic sites that are much more
intrusive than permitted under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which
Tripoli has signed.
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