In a surprise announcement on Friday, Libya admitted to producing weapons of mass destruction but agreed to scrap the program and submit to international inspections. The announcement came after nine months of secret negotiations between Great Britain and Libya and marks the latest in a series of efforts by the government in Tripoli – in the face of mounting pressure on “rogue states” – to rehabilitate its image.
Tony Blair rushed before the cameras on Friday to praise the decision, heralding it as a sign that disputes over weapons of mass destruction, as opposed to the outcome in Iraq, could be resolved peacefully. “It shows that problems of proliferation can, with good will, be tackled through discussion and engagement,” Blair said.
Bush also reacted positively and dangled the carrot of improved relations between Libya and the United States. “As the Libyan government takes these essential steps and demonstrates its seriousness, its good faith will be returned. Libya can regain a secure and respected place among the nations over time, and achieve far better relations with the United States,” he said.
But when Bush says “over time”, he means it. Administration officials told Reuters that the sanctions currently imposed on Libya will remain in place until further notice. “We will work with them as long as they are genuine in their initiative. We’re not at the point of discussing how this affects the sanctions regime,” said the official.
So what exactly will the Libyans be giving up? According to experts, Libya has ten questionable sites which are believed to be devoted to the development and production of chemical and biological weapons. And Libya is believed to have been close to attaining nuclear capability.
Libya looks to rehabilitate image
For much of the past year, Libya has been inching closer towards rejoining the international community and shaking off its pariah status. In August, the United Nations lifted international sanctions after Libya officially accepted responsibility for the bombing of a Pan Am airplane over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 and agreed to pay retributions. In a strange overlap, this latest announcement came two days before the fifteenth anniversary of the bombing on Sunday.
Following the Iraq war, the decision to rejoin the international community represents one of two avenues currently available to rogue leaders in possession of secret and illegal weapons programs. After observing the fate of Saddam Hussein, Libya’s leader, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, decided to take a different route and submit to international inspections. What’s more, if and when US sanctions are lifted, he has a lot to gain, and that, appears to have been, partly, what motivated him to change course.
On Saturday, Minister Mohamed Abderrhmane Chalgam, Libya’s foreign minister, told Al Jazeera television that his government was hoping to get back into the good graces of Britain and the United States. “Libya wants to solve all problems and we want to focus on development and advancing our country,” he said. “We want to have ties with America and Britain because this is in the interest of our people.”
Another victory for European diplomacy
The outcome in Libya signals another victory for European diplomacy in dealing with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. While the US has opted to take a heavy handed approach with Iraq, many governments in Europe, including Germany and France, have chosen to engage isolationist countries with a carrot and stick approach.
In October, foreign ministers from Europe’s big three – Great Britain, France and Germany – travelled to Iran and successfully convinced Iranian officials to agree to nuclear inspections. Libya’s decision may send a message to North Korea, which remains defiant despite mounting international pressure.