Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 75, January/February 2004
In the News
Iran, Libya, and Pakistan's Nuclear Supermarket
Iran signs Additional Protocol
Following the IAEA Report and its Board of Governors' Resolution on Iran of November 26 and Iran's promise to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities (see Disarmament Diplomacy 74), on December 18, 2003, Ambassador Ali Akbar Salehi of Iran and Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director General of the IAEA, signed an Additional Protocol to Iran's safeguards agreements under the NPT, giving the IAEA wider powers of inspection. Although it will take more time for the protocol to be ratified, Iran has promised to act as though it is in force. A further report on Iran's nuclear programme and compliance with its safeguards agreements is scheduled for February 2004. According to the IAEA, 83 NPT parties have approved the Additional Protocol, 79 have signed, but only 38 have ratified and become fully contracting parties.1
Libya Comes Clean
In December 2003, the nonproliferation news spotlight moved to Libya, with the announcement that Libya would come clean and open the files and facilities relating to its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes. Libya linked its decision with economic and political benefits, and proclaimed it the product of careful diplomacy.2 Libya is known to have been in secret discussions with US and British diplomats following the January 2001 conviction of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.
The timing of its announcement may have been precipitated by the interception of a German-registered ship, the BBC China (belonging to BBC Chartering and Logistic, Germany), en route to Tripoli from Dubai in October 2003, carrying thousands centrifuge components which might be used to enrich uranium. The components had been manufactured by a Malaysian company, Scomi Precision Engineering, who claimed that a British-owned, Dubai-based company, Gulf Technical Industries, had placed the order.
The clandestine cargo was seized by Italian officials, in partnership with Germany. The operation was hailed as a first success for the American-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), by which eleven US allies agreed a set of 'interdiction principles' for stopping and searching planes, ships and other craft suspected of carrying weapons or materials related to WMD.3
According to the official Libyan announcement, revealed on December 20: "After an agreement was reached regarding the Lockerbie case, the Libyan side ascertained that there wasn't a secret agenda on the American and British side against Libya... This encouraged Libya to go forward and open the remaining files of mutual concern, beginning with weapons of mass destruction in which the American administration and the British government were continuously asking Libya to cooperate. They are looking for transparency and confirmation that Libya has no such weapons... the British prime minister was continuously sending letters and personal envoys who met with the leader Muammar al-Gadafy and asked him for cooperation because this will open horizons of collaboration and enable Libya to obtain defensive weapons. And they promised that Libya would get great economic benefits... Coordination took place between the Libyan Intelligence, the CIA and MI6 which required calling for experts from the three agencies to examine and discuss the nature of those programmes and to help Libya prepare its files before entry into international treaties that prevent the proliferation of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Some of the programmes were identified... as dual use...We confirmed together that they would be under international supervision owing to the fact that Libya will be a party to those treaties and therefore they will not be used except for civilian purposes.... The work has been concluded since three months. It began last March ..."4
Libya had acceded to the NPT in 1975 and to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) in 1982, but despite these treaties' obligations not to develop nuclear or biological weapons, persistent concerns about Libya's non-compliance have been vindicated. Subsequent to its announcement, Libya has also ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). It deposited its instruments of accession with the OPCW on January 6 and formally became a CWC state party on February 5, 2004.
On December 22, 2003, announcing his intention to visit Libya to "initiate an in-depth process of verification of all of Libya's past and present nuclear activities", IAEA Director-General ElBaradei said "We shall define the corrective actions that need to be taken and consult on the necessary steps to eliminate any weapons related activities." According to the IAEA's press advisory, the announcement followed a meeting on December 20, with H.E. Engineer Matooq Mohamed Matooq, Assistant Secretary for Services Affairs of the General People's Committee of Libya. In that meeting, Mr. Matooq provided information on Libya's decade-long quest for a uranium enrichment capability, which included importing natural uranium and centrifuge and conversion equipment and the construction of now dismantled pilot scale centrifuge facilities. Mr. Matooq stated, however, that Libya's nuclear enrichment programme was at an early stage of development and that no industrial scale facility had been built, nor any enriched uranium produced.
The IAEA announced that Libya has agreed to take the necessary steps to conclude an Additional Protocol to its NPT Safeguards Agreement, which will provide the IAEA with broader inspection rights, and to pursue with the IAEA a policy of full transparency and active co-operation.
Dr.ElBaradei hailed Libya's decision to reverse course as "a positive development and a step in the right direction" and said that he hoped "that through verification, dialogue and active engagement, all questions related to Libya's nuclear programme can be resolved and the required corrective actions taken." ElBaradei added, "This latest revelation confirms the need, in parallel with the peace process in the Middle East, for a security dialogue that aims to establish as part and parcel of the peace settlement a sustainable security structure that inter alia turns the Middle East into a zone free from nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction."5
As President Bush and Prime Minister Blair took credit for Gadafy's decision, and proponents of the war on Iraq credited the toppling of Saddam Hussein by military force , other experts argued that the main factors were likely to be Gadafy's "disastrous econocmic policies at home, the squandering of Libya's bountiful oil resources and the deepening isolation that threatens hopes for the country's future." It was also suggested that coming clean on its not very significant WMD programmes were part of Libya's bargaining to get American sanctions lifted, with the additional leverage of its final payment of its Lockerbie compensation agreement of $2.7 billion.6
On January 19, ElBaradei met with John Bolton, US Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security and William Ehrman, of the UK FCO, to discuss what further needed to be done. Despite news reports that the US and UK were trying to keep the multilateral institutions at arms length, ElBaradei insisted that the IAEA would carry out its verification tasks, while the US and UK would undertake "logistical activities".7
By January 28, the IAEA reported that inspectors had been making "rapid and steady progress" in their verification of the Libyan nuclear programme, referring to "a high level of cooperation from the Libyan authorities." The IAEA told Member States that "inspectors have just completed the initial phase of their work, which included conducting an inventory of sensitive nuclear components and materials, the application of IAEA seals and working with US and UK personnel who, with the agreement of the Libyan authorities, provided logistical support to remove these materials from the country. Sensitive items have been removed under IAEA supervision and remain under IAEA seal and oversight. The IAEA is grateful for the support provided by these countries. A team of IAEA inspectors, including centrifuge and weaponisation experts, remain in Libya continuing their work. In the coming weeks, IAEA inspectors will be undertaking verification work on nuclear components, equipment and materials inside Libya and on items which have been removed."8
Blackmarket Trail Leads to Pakistan
One of the most important consequences of the increased cooperation and transparency between the IAEA and both Iran and Libya is the exposure of a long-suspected blackmarket trade in nuclear technology and materials. The trail led to the founder of Pakistan's nuclear programme, Abdul Qadeer Khan and Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), one of Pakistan's principal nuclear weapon facilities. Dr Khan initially accused his accusers of calumny and perfidy, but in view of the mounting evidence, on February 4, he publicly confessed his involvement and offered his "deepest regrets and unqualified apologies to a traumatised nation". In what is assumed to be a deal to protect Pakistan's government and military, Khan assumed full responsibility, stating that there was "never ever any kind of authorisation for these activities by a government official".9 Khan's mea culpa, reproduced in full below, is quite revealing: simultaneously taking responsibility and claiming to have acted 'in good faith', he implies that patriotism underlay both his proliferation activities and his confession, which ends with an appeal for Pakistanis "in the supreme national interest" to speculate or question no further.
Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf promptly pardoned Khan, thereby reducing the risk that public support for the man who had previously been sold to them as the 'father' of their bomb might turn against the government. The pardon also reduces the risk of an inconvenient trial that might expose past or present government or military complicity in Khan's dealings.
With the revelations, Pakistan is spotlighted at the centre of a blackmarket web thought to be a principal supplier to Libya, North Korea and Iran for nuclear technology and equipment during the late 1980s and 1990s, including uranium enrichment. Even more disturbing, in displaying its intention to come clean, Libya reportedly handed over blueprints of a 'Chinese-type' nuclear bomb.10 While it is possible that such trade was masterminded by Khan and his cohorts without government knowledge, Pakistan is also suspected of trading nuclear secrets with North Korea in exchange for missile technology. If so, it is doubtful that this was negotiated without high level official knowledge and sanction. In his mea culpa, Khan admitted instructing subordinates to engage in the nuclear trafficking. He ignored suggestions that he had been motivated by greed, saying his activities "were based in good faith but on errors of judgement".11
Dubai, UK, Malaysian Connections
Following exposure of Khan's network, a number of companies, ranging from the UK and Germany to Malaysia and South Africa, have also fallen under suspicion of involvement in the trafficking of nuclear-weapon-related equipment. The IAEA reportedly identified Dubai as the hub of this blackmarket. ElBaradei spoke of an "international WalMart", referring to a large American supermarket chain.
President Bush named a Dubai-based Sri Lankan businessman, B.S.A. Tahir, as a key player: "Tahir used that computer company as a front for the proliferation activities of the A.Q. Khan network. Tahir... was also its shipping agent, using his computer firm as cover for the movement of centrifuge parts to various clients."12
When the CIA fingered a Malaysian company, Scomi Precision Engineering, as the manufacturer of the centrifuge components, it claimed that the order had been placed by Gulf Technical Industries (GTI). The British directors of GTI, Paul and Peter Griffin, denied any complicity. Paul Griffin told the Guardian newspaper "We trade in engineering products... If I was going to buy high precision parts I would order them from Europe; you know what you are getting from there..."13
Griffin also referred to his good relations with Britain's Department for Trade and Industry (DTI), which regulates foreign trade, saying that GTI had cleared their exports with the British government and had good relations with the DTI: "We never had any problems [with the DTI]" he claimed. The DTI, for its part, said that while exports from Britain were carefully monitored, those from UK-owned companies overseas were not regulated, although this law is due to change soon.14
1. See http://www.iaea.org.
2. "We ascertained there wasn't a secret agenda against us", The Guardian, December 20, 2003.
3. Gary Younge, 'Uranium kit seizure pushed Libya to come clean', The Guardian, January 2, 2004; On PSI, see Disarmament Diplomacy 74 (December 2003).
4. Excerpted from "We ascertained there wasn't a secret agenda against us", The Guardian, December 20, 2003.
5. IAEA Press Release 2003/14, Vienna, December 22, 2003.
6. Patrick E. Tyler, "Qaddafi's new tune confounds", International Herald Tribune, January 8, 2004. See also Nicholas Watt, "Grateful Blair ready to meet Gadafy", The Guardian, January 6, 2004; and "Benefits could go beyond Libya: Does Gadafy's disarmament pledge vindicate the Bush-Blair Approch?", The Guardian, December 22, 2003.
7. IAEA Press Release 2004/1, Vienna, January 19, 2004.
8. "IAEA Inspections in Libya Making Progress", IAEA Press Release Media Advisory 2004/01, Vienna, 28 January 2004.
9. "Text of Dr Khan's Statement", Islamabad, February 4, 2004, http://www.dawn.com/2004/02/05/ top1.htm.
10. See, for example, George Jahn, "Khan Case Deals Blow to Nuclear Black Market", Moscow Times/AP, February 4, 2004.
11. "Text of Dr Khan's Statement", op. cit.
12. George W. Bush, Remarks by the President on Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation, National Defense University, February 11, 2004.
13. Owen Boycott, Ian Traynor, John Aglionby and Suzanne Goldenberg, "Briton key suspect in nuclear ring", The Guardian, February 12, 2004.
14. Richard Norton-Taylor, Owen Bowcott and Ian Traynor, "MI6 seized computers from British suspect", The Guardian, February 13, 2004.
Full Text of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan's Statement