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Libya: Analysts Say Decision On WMD Inspired By Economics, Worries About Succession

Libya says it will abandon its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction and will allow international inspections of its facilities. Analysts say a number of political and economic factors are behind Tripoli's decision, which has been praised by Arab states, Israel, and other countries around the world.

Prague, 22 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Libya today said it has agreed to sign the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty following weekend talks with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Muhammad el-Baradei.

The protocol allows snap inspections of Libya's nuclear facilities, and el-Baradei -- who plans soon to travel to Tripoli -- says such inspections could begin as early as next week.

Libya's decision, which came after nine months of secret negotiations with the U.S. and Britain, is being welcomed by countries around the world, who are praising it as a positive step toward world peace and security.

Experts and analysts say a number of factors were behind Libya's decision. Hans Blix, the UN's former chief weapons inspector, speculated that Libyan leader Colonel Moammar Gadhafi might have feared the same fate as deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"I can only speculate, but I would imagine that Gadhafi could have been scared by what he saw happen in Iraq. While the Americans would have difficulty in doing the same in Iran and in North Korea as they have done in Iraq, Libya would be more exposed, so maybe he will have reasons to be worried," Blix said.

Analysts say Gadhafi also acted because he wants to improve the economic situation of his country by opening the door to foreign investment.

Libya existed under international economic sanctions over its role in the 1988 bombing of a U.S. airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. The UN lifted its embargo in September after Tripoli agreed to pay $2.7 billion in compensation to the families of the 270 people killed and accept responsibility for the bombing. U.S. sanctions remain in place, however.

Shahram Chubin, director of studies at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, told RFE/RL: "I think it's a combination of a trend in Libya in the sense that Libyans had a great deal of difficulty as a result of the United Nations sanctions imposed on them as a result of their involvement in the Lockerbie bombing, and they first negotiated their way out of that by admitting responsibility."

In addition, Chubin believes Gaddafi is paving the way for a secure succession for his son. "I think, secondly, that Libya -- and in particular its leadership -- are getting ready for succession. They must have recognized that it makes sense to bring Libya back into the fold of the international community, and to do that they'd have to dispense with these programs that they've been having for many, many years, which clearly serve no rational purpose. And I think it's a recognition by Gadhafi that he wants to let his son succeed him and to leave Libya in a slightly better position if he gets rid of these useless weapons, which have created unnecessary distrust and suspicion on the part of its neighbors and, of course, the international community as a whole, including Britain and the United States," Chubin said.

World leaders are urging other countries with nuclear ambitions to follow Libya's example. U.S. President George W. Bush praised Libya's move as beneficial to world peace and -- without naming any other countries -- said, "I hope other leaders will find an example" in Libya's actions.

But analysts say it is unlikely other nations will be similarly inspired. "Well, I don't think it will have much [of an effect]," Chubin said. "The fact is that Libya was pursuing these different programs at great expense because it had the money, and it thought if it had some sort of a nuclear-weapons program or chemical weapons or other missile programs -- all of which they sought to develop over two or three decades -- that they would have more attention paid to them. And they found that really the rules of the international system are not that way. People are not terribly concerned about giving prestige to states that are undemocratic and seek these weapons, which are fairly useless in any practical purpose."

However, Chubin believes that what Libya's decision will do is to reinforce the presence of an international norm against nuclear nonproliferation. "I don't think [Libya's decision] will impact on, for example, what Iran might do or might not do, or even North Korea. But I think what it does do is to enforce the prevalence of the norm -- that is to say, a standard in international relations which more and more states are asked to conform to," Chubin said.

Some observers say Libya's decision puts Syria in a difficult position. Damascus has been accused by top U.S. officials of pursuing plans to produce biological and chemical weapons. However, they add that, even under pressure, Syria is unlikely to follow Libya's move.

Diaa Rashwan, an analyst at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a think tank based in Cairo, told Reuters that she doubts the Syrians will take the same decision "because they are in a state of war and their land is under occupation."

While praising Libya's move, Arab and Islamic countries are calling on the international community to now put pressure on Israel to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction. Israel is widely regarded as possessing nuclear weapons.

Arab League head Amr Musa said the "Libyan position confirms the importance of pressuring Israel to comply with all laws banning nuclear proliferation." Iran is also calling for the disarmament of Israel, which it called "the main threat to the region."
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.