updated 5/28/2004 7:51:06 PM ET 2004-05-28T23:51:06

Suppliers for Libya’s nuclear weapons program stretched over three continents, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said in an internal report Friday. Diplomats identified the former Soviet Union and South Africa as among them.

Traces of highly enriched uranium were found at some Libyan sites, according to the report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was made available to The Associated Press. But it suggested that the uranium entered the country on equipment that had been bought abroad.

The report did not name the countries involved in supplying Libya. However, diplomats close to the agency said on condition of anonymity that the report indicated that the former Soviet Union, South Africa, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia supported or served as bases for people selling nuclear components or know-how to Libya.

Other diplomats had earlier named North Korea, as well as people from Pakistan, Dubai and Malaysia, as part of the black market chain selling nuclear secrets to rogue nations. One of the diplomats said Moscow had not been previously linked to Libyan efforts to acquire a weapons program.

Libya cooperating but could do better
The report said Libya had been cooperative since going public about its weapons programs in December and pledging to scrap them. But it said more inspections were needed of its efforts to enrich uranium — one way to make nuclear weapons.

Its program included purchases of hundreds of centrifuges and orders for 10,000 more. In their efforts, the Libyans bought drawings of a nuclear warhead that diplomats identified as likely having originated in China but as having been sold by Pakistan.

The illicit nuclear network, headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan of Pakistan, remains the focal point of investigations by the IAEA as it tries to trace the development of shipments to Libya, Iran, North Korea and possibly other nations trying to acquire illegal nuclear technology.

North Korea was drawn deeper into the suppliers’ web last week by diplomats who said it appeared to be the source of nearly two tons of a uranium compound that Libya handed over to Americans in January as part of its decision to get rid of weapons of mass destruction.

Soviets heavily involved
The diplomats said the “foreign counterparts ... from a nuclear weapon state” mentioned by the report as working with Libyan scientists between 1983 and 1986 referred to Soviet experts.

The Soviets were also the partners in a preliminary contract that was signed for a uranium conversion plant that the report noted was apparently never delivered, the diplomats told the AP on condition of anonymity.

The diplomats also said that a mention in the report of “centrifuge-related training in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia,” probably alluded to South Africa as well as Pakistan, Dubai and Malaysia. South Africa had a weapons program up to the late 1980s.

One of the diplomats suggested that the finding of traces of enriched uranium on components in Libya could bolster arguments by Iran — now the focus of an IAEA probe for suspicious nuclear activities — that it was not involved in trying to make weapons. Iran has asserted that traces of enriched uranium found there came in with equipment from Pakistan and were not produced domestically.

Khan’s network is believed to have supplied both Libya and Iran with centrifuges. But diplomats say Pakistan, which is not a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, has not allowed IAEA inspectors to take the environmental samples needed to test Libyan and Iranian assertions.

Iran’s activities are up for review later, when the IAEA’s board meets to discuss investigations into programs that go back nearly two decades and include covert attempts to enrich uranium, reprocessing of small amounts of plutonium and other suspicious activities with possible weapons applications.

While the United States and its allies say Tehran tried to make weapons, the Islamic Republic says it is solely interested in generating nuclear power.

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