Libyan Newspapers Hail Decision

Libyan newspapers Sunday hailed Muammar al-Qaddafi's decision to abandon weapons of mass destruction as a triumph, comparing the move to Libya's claiming of responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie plane crash.

Libya's tightly controlled state-run press also demanded Israel now dispose of its arsenal, echoing statements by Egypt and the Arab League, which groups 21 Arab states and the Palestinian Authority, immediately after al-Qaddafi's surprise announcement. Israel is the only Middle East nation believed to possess nuclear weapons.

Prime Minister Shokri Ghanem (search) also said his nation was setting an example with the decision, which could lead to reparations in Libya's relations with the United States including the lifting of sanctions and its removal from Washington's list of countries that sponsor terror.

"We are turning our swords into ploughshares, and this step should be appreciated and followed by all other countries," Ghanem said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

In his statement late Friday, Gadhafi said Libya had agreed to rid itself of internationally banned weapons and adhere to nuclear, biological and chemical weapons treaties. Libya's Foreign Ministry said the agreements followed nine months of secret talks with U.S. and British envoys.

Gadhafi also agreed to tell the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the Vienna, Austria-based International Atomic Energy Agency (search), about Libya's current nuclear programs. In a first step, a Libyan delegation held closed talks Saturday with agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei in Vienna and was expected back in Libya on Sunday.

Libya's startling decision also included an admission that it was pursuing nuclear fuel projects, including the possession of centrifuges and centrifuge parts used in uranium enrichment, a nuclear effort more advanced than previously thought.

Gadhafi said his country had made "a wise decision and a courageous step" and that it wanted to lead by example "in building a new world free of weapons of mass destruction and all kinds of terrorism," Libya's official news agency, JANA, reported.

Under the headline "Yes, we have weapons of mass destruction," the daily Al-Zahf al-Akhdar, or "Green March," wrote that "at one time we sought" weapons of mass destruction, but now "we have decided, out of our own free will" to get rid of them.

This is "a new victory for Libyan diplomacy," the Libyan daily al-Shams (search), Arabic for "The Sun," said in an editorial.

"With the same skill that the country used to solve the Lockerbie problem, it has succeeded in closing another potentially explosive issue," the paper added.

Libya in September claimed responsibility for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people, and agreed to pay $2.7 billion to the victims' families. The U.N. Security Council ended sanctions against Libya in response.

Another newspaper, Al-Jamahiriya, said Libya's decision has reversed the "race (in the Middle East) to acquiring nuclear, biological and chemical weapons."

The paper said Libya's step placed "exceptional pressure on Israel" to come clean regarding its nuclear weapons program, which the Jewish state had not admitted or denied it is pursuing.

In an apparent reference to Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, Al-Jamahiriya said Israel would be unable to hide its arsenal from the U.N. nuclear inspectors, particularly ElBaradei.

Al-Jamahiriya added that while weapons of mass destruction had been a source of stability during the Cold War, they have now become "a burden to the world."

Libya's move "is a declaration of war against the diplomacy of death and an uprising inside the world's consciousness," the paper said.