updated 1/25/2004 11:24:46 AM ET 2004-01-25T16:24:46

Libya has handed U.N. inspectors drawings of a nuclear weapon, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday, in the most concrete sign that the North African nation was serious about building such arms.

“We have been shown nuclear weapons drawings that the Libyans have in their possession,” Mark Gwozdecky, chief spokesman for the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, said in Vienna. “We have put those drawings under our seal, and they are secure.”

Asked about the significance of the drawings and the IAEA’s announcement that it had them, a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “It’s the first time anyone has acknowledged” that Libya entertained intentions of building such a weapon.

Agency inspectors are in Libya, along with a separate team of U.S. and British experts, to take inventory of its nuclear arms program, part of plans to scrap the weapons of mass destruction that the country admitted last month to possessing.

The diplomat, who is familiar with the agency’s work in Libya, said the drawings did not depict a complete weapons system such as a missile, but showed a device more like a warhead. He described it as “a device that goes ’boom’ which can be put on a missile or can be put into a bomb form.”

He said members of the joint U.S.-British team would be taking the drawings out of Libya within the next few days to evaluate them.

Expert: Drawings came from abroad
The nuclear agency declined further comment, but a disarmament expert following its work in Libya said the drawings were not produced by Libyan scientists but were procured from foreign sources.

The expert, who also asked he not be identified, said either the agency team or the British and American experts also were hoping to take possession of components used to make weapons.

Building "The Bomb"That would be another major signpost on Libya’s nuclear weapons trail. Up to now, IAEA officials have described the country’s effort to make such weapons as in the starting phase and suggested that the country possessed little more than centrifuges to enrich uranium — possibly to weapons grade — and related equipment.

But centrifuges also have peaceful uses — creating low-grade enriched uranium to generate energy, for instance.

The expert said the weapons-making components would not serve such “dual use” purposes, but for explosives or for vacuum-induction furnaces used to melting plutonium or uranium to make warheads.

The fact that the drawings were produced abroad is bound to further raise alarm in Washington and other capitals concerned with how easy weapons expertise can be acquired by a country looking to build nuclear arms.

The drawings — and any discovery of weapons-making components or equipment — are also likely to fuel discussion of how far along the nuclear weapons road Libya was before agreeing to scrap its program.

Dispute over program
Washington says the country had advanced weapons-making capability, while the IAEA maintained that Libya’s programs were in the beginning stages.

International attention is focused on Pakistan or Pakistani nationals as suppliers of nuclear technology and expertise to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

For years, Pakistan rejected allegations that its scientists might have stoked nuclear proliferation. But the government began retreating from that claim in December after U.N. inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities revealed that “Pakistani-linked individuals” had acted as “intermediaries and black marketeers.” Islamabad then acknowledged that some Pakistanis motivated by ambition or greed may have sold nuclear secrets to Iran.

Pakistani scientists were later implicated in a scheme to sell high-tech centrifuge technology to Libya, and have also been named in probes into North Korea’s nuclear program.

Pakistan has acknowledged detaining “five to six” scientists and administrators for what it calls “debriefings.” Most have not been released, their relatives say, and no formal appearances or charges have been made in court.

Under an agreement reached earlier this week, the IAEA will establish the scope and content of Libya’s nuclear program. Once IAEA verification is complete, U.S. and British experts are to remove suspect materials from the North African country.

A diplomat said the Americans and British were “still at the tire-kicking stage,” but transports out of the country could start as early as the next few days.

“The Libyans themselves are pushing the pace,” the diplomat said. “They’re eager to get this stuff out as quickly as possible so they can rejoin the international community.

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