VIENNA, Austria – Libya (search) has agreed to open its nuclear activities to pervasive inspection by the U.N. atomic agency as early as next week, taking a key step toward honoring its pledge to scrap its nuclear weapons program, the head of the U.N. watchdog said Monday.
The decision followed a meeting Saturday between a delegation from Libya and Mohamed ElBaradei (search), the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (search). The session came after the surprise announcement that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi would give up his country's nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction programs.
ElBaradei said that he would lead the first inspection mission, which he described as a positive step on the part of Libya "to rid itself of all programs or activities that are relevant or could lead to the production of weapons of mass destruction."
Libya has admitted to nuclear fuel projects, including the possession of centrifuges and centrifuge parts used in uranium enrichment -- a nuclear effort more advanced than previously thought. It also agreed to tell the IAEA about current nuclear programs and to adhere to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
During Saturday's meeting, the Libyan delegation also agreed that it was in breech of its safeguard obligations and that it would sign an additional protocol to the Nonproliferation Treaty. That move gives IAEA a strong mandate for wide-ranging inspections on short notice.
"It was a logical move on the part of Libya if it wanted to show it was serious about being open about its (nuclear) programs," said a diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Gadhafi's decision to come clean is the latest in a series of moves aimed to end his country's international isolation and shed its reputation as a rouge nation.
The United States imposed sanctions in 1986, accusing Libya of supporting terrorist groups. Ten years later, America passed the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act that threatened to penalize the U.S. partners of European companies that did significant business in Libya and Iran.
While U.S. sanctions remain in force, the U.N. Security Council voted to abolish its sanctions on Libya in September, after it agreed to pay compensation to families of the Lockerbie bombing.
Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on Dec. 21, 1988, killing 259 people on the plane and 11 on the ground. Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence agent, was found guilty of the bombing in 2001 and sentenced to life in prison.