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Col Mu'amar al-Qadhafi

Update No: 033 - (03/08/06)

Nuclear Libya
Perhaps reinforcing the fact that Libya now enjoys normalized relations with the West, Libya's leader Col. Qadhafi resuscitated the subject of Libya's efforts to develop a nuclear weapon and that he willingly gave up those plans in the interest of Libya. Coincidentally, Qadhafi's announcement in mid-July coincided with the discovery by the American satellite Isisin that Pakistan has been building a new reactor in Khushab. Once finished, the plant would have the capacity to make some 50 nuclear warheads/year. The coincidence lies in the evidence that Libya's nuclear program was developed thanks to Pakistani aid. The main element in this story is one Dr. Abdel Qader Khan. Dr. Khan admitted his guilt in Pakistan, after he was confronted by the government for his alleged involvement in exploiting his government position to sell nuclear technology to those willing to pay. Khan's popularity in Pakistan as the father of the 'Islamic Bomb', allowed him to avoid arrest, so his guilt was presented as a 'judgment error'. However, his actual potential contribution to any actual nuclear weapons development remains arguable. Khan's contributions were restricted largely to areas in which he had worked. Much of the nuclear weapons technology actually came from plans likely purchased in China in the 1980s. Indeed, Chinese documents were discovered in the material that Libya turned over to international authorities. It is believed that Libya paid Khan some $50 million for the nuclear weapons plans and some of the required equipment. It would not be totally surprising if Libya used the Pakistani nuclear weapon technology plans - the plans were insufficient in themselves in leading to the production of an actual bomb - as the centrepiece of its strategy to gain diplomatic currency with the West, at a time when the presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction were sufficient excuse to invade a country.

If Dr. Khan has gotten away with a 'mea culpa' admission, the investigation into the nuclear proliferation business that had - among others - Libya as a customer continues, but the first results are not encouraging. In late July, the first criminal trial of an alleged top figure was cancelled due to insufficient evidence. A judge in the south-west German town of Mannheim dismissed the case against Gotthard Lerch, a German engineer, who was accused of helping Libya clandestinely build a nuclear bomb, because the prosecution withheld evidence. The dismissal will not help the efforts of those trying to close down A.Q.Khan's nuclear technology proliferation network. Lerch was alleged to have exported components for centrifuges for enriching uranium for Libya's alleged nuclear bomb program. According to the prosecution, Lerch was one of Dr. Khan's principal associates according to witness Peter Griffin, a British citizen also believed to belong to Khan's 'team'. Mr. Griffin testified against Lerch last May, but he denied having played any deliberate role in helping Libya develops nuclear arms capability. Mr. Lerch, according to the prosecution, helped Khan's network in supplying Libya a uranium enrichment plant featuring more than 11,000 centrifuges, capable of producing enough weapons-grade uranium to build several nuclear warheads a month. Khan's circle was made up by associates including a Sri Lankan businessman, a Swiss engineer Friedrich Tinner, Mr. Lerch, and Peter Griffin. The investigation has revealed that manufacturing the equipment for Libya was subcontracted to firms in South Africa, Malaysia, Turkey and Switzerland. Interestingly, Lerch's defence team was trying to convey the notion that their client was actually a fall guy in a western intelligence plot. Should that defense prove to be correct, it might give credence to reports first published in the Wall Street Journal last May, that the plan to use Libya's development of nuclear weapons as a card to improve relations with the west, was the result of many months of backdoor negotiations between Libya, the UK and the United States. Indeed, it even suggests that the shipment of nuclear equipment cargo from Malaysia stopped in October of 2003, that led to the investigation into Dr. Kahn's activities was perhaps part of that intelligence web and that it had Col. Qadhafi's blessing. Obviously with the prosecution withholding evidence after the trial had commenced, this gives ammunition to the conspiracy theorists. 

In July, meanwhile, as for Libya's nuclear capacity now, U.S. officials have removed three kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the Tajoura research centre near Tripoli, which could have been used to make a nuclear weapon. The material was returned to Russia. The HEU was removed by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) with participants from the United States, Libya, the Russian Federation, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The HEU was placed in three specialized transportation containers in a process monitored by the IAEA. The containers were then airlifted from Tripoli to a secure facility in Russia, where the HEU will be turned into Low-enriched uranium (LEU). This is the latest shipment of a process that will result in all nuclear material of Russian origin being returned to Russia. A large shipment of material was made in May 2004. 

The revived interest in Libya's nuclear program comes as Col. Qadhafi made a surprisingly candid revelation in one of his speeches in July. According to JANA (the main government news agency in Libya) Qadhafi said: "Libya was on the point of building a nuclear bomb: that is no longer a secret….The Americans and the International Atomic Energy Agency were well aware…." In the same speech, Qadhafi also highlighted the distancing from the notion of pan-Arabism that had marked much of his country's foreign policy efforts until the late nineties, when Africa became their main declared focus. He described pan-Arabism as a costly illusion: "We spent a lot of money on military projects but not on civilian projects and reconstruction; our hopes on setting up an Arab nation were immense but unfortunately all failed….This support was indispensable at that time. It was in the name of Arab nationalism, socialism and revolution. Now all that has changed and we have paid dearly for it." 

The Lebanon Crisis
This revelation has some additional weight considering it comes as Lebanon finds itself in a situation reminiscent of the late 1970's and early 1980's, when there were strong allegations of Libyan involvement in Lebanese affairs. Libya has always been the obvious primary suspect in the disappearance of the spiritual and political leader of Lebanese Shiites - who helped launch the Lebanese Shiite community's political aspirations in the 1960's and 1970's - who disappeared mysteriously during a visit to Libya in 1979. Most Lebanese Shiites have long maintained that Qadhafi's men assassinated Sadr and his two companions, Sheikh Muhammad Yaqoub and Abbas Bader Eddine, a journalist. Libya however maintains that Imam Musa al-Sadr boarded a plane to Rome (the Italian government denied this). In the fall of 2000, a crisis emerged as Amal (the political Shiite party associated with Al-Sadr, which would spawn Hezbollah and Islamic Amal in the 1980's - see Syria update) led by Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, refused to invite Libya's ambassador in Beirut, Ali Maria, to the opening session of Lebanon's newly-elected parliament. A Libyan state-run newspaper demanded that the estimated 15,000 Lebanese who live and work in their country be expelled. Defunct Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri travelled to Libya to defuse the situation. However, Berri remained unimpressed and allies in the Shiite communities such as Sheikh Nasrallah and the head of the Higher Shi'ite Council, Sheikh Muhammad Mehdi Shamseddine, accused Libya of fuelling violence during the Lebanese civil war, even suggesting that Libya conspired with Israel, as the disappearance of Sadr occurred only four months after Israel's 1978 invasion. 

As Lebanon is suffering another invasion from Israel and its internal politics faces uncertainty once again, Libya is urging Arab countries to help Lebanon. Libya has praised the Lebanese people's resistance and offered support for the country over "the barbaric attacks of the Israeli regime" in an official statement. The Libyan General People's Committee (GPC) has asked that the External Relations and International Co-operation ministry establish contacts with UN Security Council members and international organizations to stop the Israeli attacks against the Lebanese people. The GPC has also to set up an airlift medical, food aids and other relief materials, for which it would also mobilize the grassroots People's Congresses and the different municipalities to gather donations for the Lebanese people.  

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