LONDON – Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi confirmed that his country sought to develop weapons of mass destruction but plans to dismantle all such programs immediately.
In a statement moments later, President Bush said Libya would allow international inspectors to check 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.
Britain and the United States have been talking with Libya for nine months, Blair said.
“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 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 (187.5 miles).”
Blair said Gadhafi promised that the process would be “transparent and verifiable.”
Speaking in Washington, President Bush said, “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.”
This was the second time in a week that Blair disclosed major international news. He also announced the capture of Saddam Hussein.
The U.N. Security Council ended sanctions against Libya on Sept. 12 after Gadhafi’s government took responsibility for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am passenger jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, and agreed to pay $2.7 billion to families of the 270 victims. The council’s decision was largely symbolic since the United Nations temporarily suspended its embargo in April 1999.
But the United States has kept its own 17-year embargo in place. Washington has said Libya is actively developing biological and chemical weapons, upgrading its nuclear capabilities and seeking ballistic missiles to deliver weapons of mass destruction, for which it is receiving help from countries that sponsor terrorism.
“This decision by Colonel Gadhafi is a historic one and a courageous one and I applaud it,” Blair said.
The U.S. intelligence community, in unclassified publications, says that 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 186 miles. U.S. intelligence reports suggest was seeking missiles with longer ranges.
Libya relied heavily on foreign assistance for its weapons programs, but already made overtures 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.