msnbc.com news services
updated 2/23/2004 12:55:04 PM ET 2004-02-23T17:55:04

Some key elements of Libya’s nuclear weapons program remain in place three months after its government pledged to scrap them, but Tripoli remains committed to keeping its promise, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency said Monday.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy agency, held out the prospect of support to Libya for research and other peaceful uses of nuclear energy, once all components of Libya’s two-decade arms program effort are dismantled.

He spoke to reporters between meetings with senior Libyan officials aimed at monitoring the government’s commitment to mothball and dismantle its uranium enrichment capabilities and other equipment and know-how acquired largely through the black market headed by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

“They have cooperated already in dismantling ... sensitive aspects of the program,” ElBaradei said. “There are still some sensitive parts, and again discussion is going on dismantling those parts.”

ElBaradei said, without elaborating, that his agency was ready to support Libya’s wish to “continue with extended peaceful use activities ... once we eliminate the military related programs.”

Learned about 'network supply'
With world attention riveted on that nuclear network — which for decades provided Libya, Iran and North Korea with the technology and equipment to build weapons — diplomats familiar with the agency said ElBaradei was also looking for new pieces in that puzzle.

“It’s part of our discussion. The Libyan authorities have been very cooperative in that sense, we have learned a lot through our discussions with the Libyans on network supply, which as you know also is in Iran and possibly other countries,” ElBaradei said before meeting with Libyan officials. “There is interconnectivity between supply in Iran and supply in Libya.”

IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said that information provided by Libya as part of its commitment to disarm was crucial to identifying that network, its key players, and the roles they played in ferrying equipment and expertise to nations willing to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for the means to acquire nuclear arms.

Asked for a progress report on getting all the names and details of the black-market network, an official from the delegation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “We’re more than halfway there.”

Since the first revelations from Libya in December, Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, has confessed to heading the operation described by ElBaradei as a “nuclear supermarket” with middlemen on five continents.

Libya’s openness on the illicit trade network helped the IAEA “understand the most serious case of proliferation in recent time,” Fleming said.

Khan and dozens of associates circumvented national export controls in Europe, Asia and elsewhere to ship nuclear technology to Libya, which managed to hide experiments geared to making weapons for nearly two decades.

Among the most startling discoveries were engineers’ drawings of a 1960s warhead of Chinese design apparently provided by those linked to Khan, who originally turned to Beijing to develop Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

While far away from building such arms, Libya also managed to process minute quantities of plutonium, used in the core of nuclear warheads, according to a report by ElBaradei, details of which were released last Friday.

Uranium to go back to Russia
Talks this week also were focusing on shipping highly enriched uranium — which can be used in the core of nuclear warheads — from a Libyan research reactor back to Russia, which originally provided it, and replacing it with low-enriched fuel, without weapons applications.

Centrifuge designs and other technology originating from Pakistan and found in Libya also were apparently sold to Iran, which has acknowledged hiding nearly two decades of nuclear activity but insists its programs are meant to produce electricity, not weapons.

North Korea denies any link to Khan, but U.S. intelligence and Khan’s associates have said that Pyongyang also received help in its nuclear weapons program from his network.

A diplomat said the Libyan revelations helped the agency link Iran’s illicit program to the Khan operation.

“Things that the IAEA was learning from Iran strongly implicated Pakistan, but finding another country ordering from the same network exposed the whole workings and international connections of that network,” including ties to Iran, said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Iran has been less forthcoming than Libya on its sources. It confirmed Sunday it has purchased nuclear equipment from international dealers, including some from the Indian subcontinent, but said it doesn’t know where the components came from.

It has made the same argument to the IAEA, saying only the intermediaries that supplied it know the origins of the parts.

A report from Malaysian authorities last week said Iran had bought $3 million in used uranium centrifuge parts from the Khan operation.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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