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Cirincione: Libya's move precedes the war in Iraq

Senior Associate and Director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Joseph Cirincione
Senior Associate and Director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Joseph Cirincione

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Libya has a sizeable stockpile of chemical weapons, but appears to have stopped producing them years ago.
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President Bush announces that Libya has agreed to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- CNN anchor Sean Callebs spoke with an expert on weapons of mass destruction, Joseph Cirincione, author of "Deadly Arsenals" and director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, about the recent developments in Libya's weapons of mass destruction program.

Libya's announced that it plans to abandon its weapons of mass destruction program in order to "to eliminate any threats against Libya from the West and from the (United) States in particular," according to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Callebs: Now, from everything I've heard and read so far, it appears that the U.S. was somewhat caught off guard, that they didn't know that Libya was as far along in its nuclear program or other weapons of mass destruction.

Cirincione: Well, we don't know what to make of these reports coming out from the White House yesterday that they were shown some uranium enrichment capabilities -- centrifuges the Libyans themselves mentioned in their official statement yesterday.

We don't know yet if these were new centrifuges that they acquired recently, from Pakistan, perhaps, or just remnants of the old nuclear program that they had back in the 1980s, and back in the 1990s.

Some administration officials are playing it up, saying Libya was close to a nuclear capability. I don't think that's likely the case. They didn't have much of a serious effort going on here.

Callebs: Well, what about the biological weapons? It is very significant that they are agreeing to stop that, as well.

Cirincione: Yes. Libya has long been suspected of having a basic research program. They're not believed to have actually produced a biological weapon, but they may have had the capability to produce some biological agents. So it's significant that they're taking this step, as well.

Most important is their disposal of their chemical weapons. This was really the major weapon of mass destruction that they had, if you can call chemical weapons that.

They had produced about 100 tons of chemical weapons, mustard gas mainly, in the late 1980s, the early 1990s. They are now agreeing to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, dispose of those materials, shut down their production capability.

Callebs: Now, what about the tough rhetoric that we've heard from the Bush White House over the past year? How much did that have an impact on what we're seeing going on?

Cirincione: Well, the president is certainly claiming that it had a great impact. But I think this is a success that spans administrations and spans governments. As you just reported, this is something that goes back over 10 years of international pressure on the Qaddafi regime. Over the last six or seven years, Qaddafi has steadily moved towards Europe, waiting to integrate, focused on a program of economic development for Libya.

That means he needs Western investment and markets. That means he has to comply with international norms. So this whole move precedes the Bush administration and precedes the war in Iraq.

Callebs: We've heard the president say that other nations can learn from what Libya is doing, that they don't build prestige by having nuclear weapons.

What other countries could we see following suit or should follow suit in the eyes of the administration?

Cirincione: Well, we just had two good examples, Iran and Libya, where international negotiations and diplomacy have arrested those countries' programs. Libya just signed an additional treaty protocol just this week freezing its nuclear program.

What we're mostly looking at right now is North Korea. Can the administration take the lessons learned from Libya and apply the right combination of stick and carrots, rewards, to encourage North Korea to abandon its program?

After that, you're looking at the other countries in the Middle East that have still remnants of programs -- Syria with chemical weapons, Israel with nuclear and chemical weapons.

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