Secret diplomacy led to Libyan deal

U.S., British arms experts had been granted access to weapons and scientists


LONDON -- Libya's surprise declaration giving up its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons was the culmination of a week of intense negotiations that followed months of secret diplomacy, officials in London and Washington said yesterday.

Since a gambit by Libya in March, they said, there was a series of clandestine meetings in Tripoli between the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el Kadafi, and experts from the CIA -- as well as visits to at least 10 sites in Libya by British and U.S. weapons experts.

Kadafi personally drove his subordinates to cooperate with the CIA's review of Libya's illicit weapons programs, U.S. intelligence officials said.

"During meetings with Colonel Kadafi, he was consistent throughout with his desire to proceed with the admissions and elimination of his weapons program," one intelligence official said. "He knew what he wanted to do, and he had a message to pass back to both Washington and London. Our meetings were usually late at night, but in each case he had done his homework and was quite generous with his time."

The negotiations hit high speed in the past week. British Prime Minister Tony Blair had his first telephone conversation with Kadafi on Thursday, an aide said. Nigel Sheinwald, Blair's national security adviser, and Condoleezza Rice, his U.S. counterpart, spoke with Libyan officials throughout the week, British and U.S. officials said. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was on the telephone with the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, from Powell's hospital bed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he was recovering from prostate surgery, a State Department official said.

The effort's roots lay in the final phase of the five years of talks over United Nations sanctions against Libya that were imposed after the bombing in 1988 of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, British and U.S. officials said. The United Nations lifted its sanctions after Libya acknowledged responsibility for the bombing and offered about $10 million in compensation for each of the 270 victims. But Libya said full payment would come only after all international sanctions were lifted.

Congress and the Bush administration, however, said sanctions would be maintained until Libya gave up its illicit weapons programs and links to terrorist organizations. That position, U.S. and British officials said, forced Libya, economically crippled and desperate for the return of foreign oil companies, to consider the new concessions. A State Department official said Libya felt an urgency to act because of the U.S. stances on Iran and North Korea and the war in Iraq. An intelligence official said Kadafi was also concerned about the threat to his government from militant elements in the country.

British and U.S. officials said Friday that the initial approach was made by Libya in March, just before the war in Iraq. A spokesman for Blair said yesterday that Libya's chief of intelligence, Musa Kussa, contacted the British government.

The negotiations hinged on how strong a commitment to breaking with Libya's past Kadafi was willing to make in a public statement, given the criticism that it would probably arouse in parts of the Arab world, officials in London said.

A strong declaration was crucial, said a British official who briefed reporters here yesterday, after discoveries by teams of U.S. and British experts who spent three weeks inspecting dozens of Libyan laboratories and military factories in October and early this month. They found that Libyan scientists were "developing a nuclear fuel cycle intended to support nuclear weapons development," a British official said.

"Libya had not acquired a nuclear weapons capability, though it was close to developing one."

For the teams of CIA experts, the ability to walk through the chemical and nuclear weapons facilities was a stunning experience.

"It wasn't the individual things we were shown that we were blown away by," said one official involved in the review, but "the extent to which we were given access." The CIA teams visited dozens of sites, including the 10 involved in the nuclear program, and interviewed with Libyan scientists.

"One of our most senior analysts said this was the most extraordinary disclosure in his 30 years of doing this," one official said.

Though the country's uranium-enrichment capabilities were further along than expected, the intelligence officials said that much of what the CIA saw confirmed its analysts' projections, which they hailed as a vindication of the agency's ability to monitor weapons programs around the world.

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