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ElBaradei: Libya nuclear program dismantled

From Andrea Koppel

Mohamed ElBaradei, left, and Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam meet in Tripoli, Libya, this weekend.

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TRIPOLI, Libya (CNN) -- Libya's nuclear program was years away from producing a nuclear weapon and has been dismantled, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said Monday.

ElBaradei, who completed a tour of four previously undisclosed sites in Tripoli, said it was a revelation to learn how Libya bought nuclear materials for its program through the black market.

"The program is very much at an early stage of development, where it is right now ... quite dismantled in fact. It's all in boxes," ElBaradei said. "They were far away from having an industrial-scale enrichment capability."

An aide to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said ElBaradei also met with Gadhafi for about 30 minutes Monday. He did not characterize the discussion or give any details.

Inspectors from the nuclear watchdog agency first visited the sites Sunday to begin their assessment of Libya's recently declared nuclear weapons program.

An aide to ElBaradei said inspectors spent about three hours doing initial inspections of four sites around Tripoli. More detailed inspections are scheduled to follow in coming days and weeks, the aide said.

ElBaradei indicated that his "gut feeling" was Libya was about three to seven years away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon.

After months of secret talks with U.S. and British officials, Libya acknowledged efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction December 19 and said it would abandon them. It has promised to disclose details about its nuclear programs and abide by the terms of the international Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

IAEA and Libyan officials are developing plans to provide inspectors with documentation and additional details on the nation's nuclear weapons program.

The Libyan Foreign Ministry said the country's scientists had not yet developed a working plan for a nuclear weapon or developed the triggering mechanisms needed to set off a nuclear explosion.

"We are now working with them to neutralize any activities, any programs that could have led to a nuclear weapon," ElBaradei said.

"But luckily, I think, we are here when they have not developed a full-fledged capability and luckily also they have announced that they are ready to eliminate all programs relevant to weapons of mass destruction, which I think is a very good step in the right direction."

ElBaradei said he already has gathered good information about where Libya bought supplies for its nuclear program.

He said most countries from which materials came did not know about the black market sales, which he called "a big loophole" in export controls.

"It's an eye opener to see how much material has been going from one country to the other, the extent of the black market network," he said.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said last week that he hoped his decision to dismantle his country's weapons of mass destruction programs would usher in a new era of relations between Libya and the United States.

In an interview with CNN, the Libyan leader said that although his country has certain programs and machines, it has no weapons of mass destruction.

The programs he is prepared to dismantle, Gadhafi said, "would have been for peaceful purposes -- but nevertheless we decided to get rid of them completely."

He said inspectors will see "we don't have anything to hide."

This month marked the 15th anniversary of the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 259 people abroad and 11 on the ground. A Libyan agent is serving a life sentence in a Scottish jail for his part in the 1988 bombing.

Gadhafi acknowledged this year that Libya was responsible for the deaths in the Lockerbie bombing and agreed to pay compensation worth more than $2 billion to relatives of the victims.

The United States and Britain gave clear signs that Gadhafi's move on the weapons issue could lead to the final lifting of sanctions imposed in the wake of the Lockerbie bombing. (Full story)

Relatives of victims said the apparent deal by the West amounts to rewarding terror. (Full story)

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