Libya Welcomes U.N. Nuke Inspectors

Libya (search) welcomed a team of U.N. inspectors who arrived Saturday to evaluate the nation's nuclear program and determine if it's fulfilling a pledge to abandon efforts to build weapons of mass destruction.

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam said Libya had not yet produced nuclear weapons — a claim the chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, Mohamed ElBaradei (search), supported shortly before arriving with a team of inspectors in the North African nation.

"We don't have weapons of mass destruction," Shalqam said at a news conference. "We didn't arrive to the point of weaponization."

In Tripoli, ElBaradei praised Libya's new openness as a step in the right direction. "Libya is opening its doors for us and we will take full advantage to implement our mandate," he said.

The government of Muammar al-Qaddafi (search) announced earlier this month that Libya would abandon its efforts to build nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The moved is part of an effort to end the country's isolation after years of international sanctions.

Shalqam emphasized al-Qaddafi's commitment on the arms issue, saying Libya would cooperate with full transparency with the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (search) and sign a protocol, or agreement, allowing wide-ranging inspections on short notice.

"We are sure that this step is a strategic one, and we call up on others to follow," the foreign minister said, singling out Israel, which has never confirmed whether it has nuclear weapons.

"This is a clear message to everybody, especially the Israelis, that they must start disposing of weapons of mass destruction."

ElBaradei said his team would immediately begin technical discussions with Libyan experts and officials and would visit all the relevant sites.

"This protocol is not meant to be a threat to a country's national security or dignity but an objective tool to give assurance that the activities are for peaceful means," ElBaradei said.

He said Libya received its weapons equipment "through the black market."

Earlier Saturday, ElBaradei told The Associated Press that the full extent of Libya's covert activities was not known but the country appeared to be far from producing nuclear arms.

What is known, ElBaradei said on the Vienna to Amsterdam leg of his flight to the Libyan capital, is that the Libyans "tried to develop an enrichment capability," for uranium (search), apparently as part of a weapons program that was later abandoned.

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency was sidelined during the covert U.S.-British talks that led to Libya's announcement about its weapons programs.

Diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity told the AP that the IAEA now had access to U.S. and British intelligence, but ElBaradei on Saturday acknowledged that his team was still going into Libya knowing relatively little.

"Whether they succeeded to a weapons program, we will have to see, but as far as I was told they have only a rudimentary program," that never proceeded to the stage of enriching uranium, a crucial step on the way to making nuclear warheads or bombs, he said.

Still, he said he could not rule out that IAEA teams would find evidence of "weaponization" of uranium through enrichment.

ElBaradei's team included Iran and Iraq experts. He said that allowed a "multidisciplinary" approach that would include looking both for evidence of a known weapons program, as Iraq proved to have in the early 1990s, and details of advanced enrichment activities such as Iran's, which the IAEA is now scrutinizing for possible weapons applications.

Also high on the agenda over the coming weeks was a search for "interconnectivity" between Libya's and Iran's suspect nuclear programs, he said.

Diplomats familiar with the agency who spoke on condition of anonymity told the AP they expected such evidence to surface, particularly in the field of centrifuge technology used in enrichment.

The United Nations lifted sanctions against Libya in September after al-Qaddafi's government accepted responsibility for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, and agreed to pay $2.7 billion to the families of the victims.

The United States imposed sanctions against Libya in 1986, claiming it supported terrorist groups. It continues its embargoes but after al-Qaddafi's nuclear promise hinted at improved relations.