Israel welcomes Libya’s decision to dismantle WMD program

21.12.2003 By Haaretz Service and Agencies and BPI. Israel on Saturday welcomed Libya’s declaration that it is to scrap its banned weapons program as „very positive,” but said it is still examining the surprise move. Libya’s move Friday to drop its weapons program and allow unconditional inspections drew praise from Washington and London. Tripoli on Saturday expressed its desire to focus on developing itself and normalizing ties with the United States and Britain.

Meanwhile, a Libyan delegation arrived in Vienna on Saturday for talks with the United Nations atomic watchdog on how to dismantle the country’s nuclear program. „Definitely it is very positive because the Middle East will maybe become a safer place… but we have to see what we are talking about. It is premature,” an Israeli official said. Asked whether Libya’s move would increase pressure on Israel to come clean with its weapons program, the official said: „Israel’s official line is that we wouldn’t be the first ones to bring in such types of weapons to the Middle East.” „If the Middle East would really be a very quite place and peace would surround us, then we could talk in a different way, but we understand who are neighbours are,” she added. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Saturday that the Libyan declaration regarding a move to drop its weapons program, was evidence of the success of U.S. policy to bring about a new world order. But, Mofaz added that Gadhafi would ultimately be judged by his actions, and not by his declarations, Army Radio reported. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on Saturday described the decision by Libyan leader Muammar Gadhfai as a „positive trend”, and one that paved the way for Tripoli to rejoin the international community. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher on Saturday called on Israel to follow Libya’s example and get rid of its nuclear weapons program. „Libya wants to solve all problems and we want to focus on development and advancing our country. This program does not benefit our people or country,” Foreign Minister Mohamed Abderrhmane Chalgam told Al-Jazeera television. „We want to have ties with America and Britain because this is in the interest of our people,” Chalgam said. Washington bans most economic activity and bars citizens from travelling to Libya on U.S. passports without government permission. Washington last month renewed this passport restrictions for a year but said it would review the matter every three months. Speaking two days before he was set to arrive in Israel fo talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Maher said, „I hope that other countries in the region… would follow such an example… get rid of and put an end to any nuclear weapons production program,” Maher said. Maher did not specifically name Israel, but said, „You know, of course, who I mean.” Israel is the only country in the Middle East believed to possess nuclear weapons, but refuses to confirm or deny the claim. Asked if the international community should start looking at Israel’s nuclear capabilities, Maher said: „I said that the steps which Libya took should be a model to follow. This is clear. I won’t add anything.” Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the Libyan move „emphasizes the need for Israel to comply with all the regulations that prohibit the proliferation of weapons.” „There should be no exceptions that would allow Israel” to have such weapons, Moussa added. Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi said Friday that his country has taken „a wise decision and a courageous step” to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction and to accept international inspections to ensure the prohibited arms and programs to develop and use them no longer exist. The Libyan delegation’s meetings at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s offices in Vienna were not open to the media and it was not immediately clear what was discussed. In Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush said Friday that Libya would allow international inspectors to account for all major weapons in the country, a step he said would be „of great importance” in stopping weapons of mass destruction in a global fight against terrorism. „With today’s announcement by its leader, Libya has begun the process of rejoining the community of nations,” Bush said in a surprise White House appearance to announce the joint U.S.-British agreement with Libya. The two leaders said Britain and the United States had been engaged in talks with Libya for nine months. „Libya came to us in March following successful negotiations on Lockerbie to see if it could resolve its weapons of mass destruction issue in a similarly cooperative manner,” Blair said in the northern English city of Durham. „Libya has now declared its intent to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction completely and to limit the range of Libyan missiles to no greater than 300 kilometers,” he said. Blair said Gadhafi had promised that the process would be „transparent and verifiable.” „This decision by Colonel Gadhafi is a historic one and a courageous one and I applaud it,” he said. The UN Security Council ended its sanctions against Libya September 12 after Gadhafi’s government took responsibility for the bombing of a Pan Am passenger jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, and agreed to pay families of the 270 victims a total of $2.7 billion. The council’s decision was largely symbolic, since the United Nations had temporarily suspended its embargo in April 1999. But the United States has kept its own 17-year embargo in place. The U.S. intelligence community, in unclassified publications, said Libya has developed its nuclear infrastructure but stops short of saying it is certainly trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Tripoli was probably seeking chemical weapons and dual-use items that could be used in a biological weapons program, intelligence reports say. According to a recent unclassified report to Congress, Libya’s longest-range missiles were thought to be Scud-B ballistic missiles. These have a range of 300 kilometers. U.S. intelligence reports suggest was seeking missiles with longer ranges. Libya relied heavily on foreign assistance for its weapons programs, but had already made overtures that it would slow or halt its programs to improve its international standing. The U.S. intelligence community’s statements on Libya’s alleged weapons programs suggest efforts in that country were not as advanced as it believed Iraq’s were before the U.S.-led invasion. A U.S. official said Friday that Libya has acknowledged working with North Korea to develop Scud missiles and said its nuclear program was further along than previously believed. „Libya admitted elements of the history of its cooperation with North Korea to develop extended-range Scud missiles,” the official said. On Libya’s nuclear aims, he said, „My understanding is that they did have a much further advanced program,” than previously thought. Gadhafi: I have nothing against the Jews Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported over the weekend that Gadhafi, while attending a recent summit in Tunisia, said that that he had „nothing against the United States and against the Jews,” and wished for a peaceful world. Ghadafi made his December 5 remarks at the so-called „5+5 dialogue” encompassed five states from southern Europe (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Malta) and the five states of the Arab Maghreb Union (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania). According to the report, Gadhafi did not deliver a formal address at the summit, but told reporters before the conference opened that he condemned the terror attacks carried out by Al-Qaida, and called the leaders of the militant group „insane people without emotions.” When asked by a Yedioth Ahronoth reporter whether he supported peace in the Middle East, the Libyan leader replied: „Libya wants to see the citizens of the world living in peace. Libya wants to see harmony between the nations, including the region to which you are referring.”