Bloomberg News

Libya May See Return of United Nations Chemical Arms Inspectors

November 02, 2011

Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) -- An international chemical weapons agency may announce as early as next week that inspectors will return to Libya for the first time since the revolt against leader Muammar Qaddafi broke out in February.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons aims to help Libya resume destruction of stockpiles of mustard gas begun more than a year ago. The work was halted in February due to a malfunction at a destruction facility, about the same time the rebellion broke out.

“We should have something to announce next week on this,” Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the organization, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands, said in an e-mail. “We’re consulting regularly” with the new Libyan government and other member countries on “arrangements to enable the return of our inspectors to Libya.”

The U.S. is so concerned about the security of the chemical stockpiles that President Barack Obama raised the issue during a September meeting in New York with National Transitional Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil.

Libya’s chemical stocks -- 11.3 metric tons of mustard agent and 845 metric tons of chemical precursors -- are stored in non-weapon form inside steel containers and secure bunkers in a remote part of Libya, according to a White House fact sheet.

U.S. officials are working with Libya and the UN agency “to get inspectors back into Libya as soon as possible and to take an inventory and assure that everything is there,” Rose Gottemoeller, a U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control issues, told reporters in New York this week.

‘Move More Quickly’

The end of the conflict in Libya “will help us, I think, to move more quickly to get those inspectors back in and to really accomplish that important task,” she said.

The OPCW, which oversees a global treaty to eliminate chemical weapons, has been involved in Libya since the country joined the agreement in January 2004. Its inspectors verified Libya’s official accounting of its chemical weapons materials and its destruction measures.

Libya had declared in 2004 that it possessed 25 metric tons of mustard gas and more than 3,500 unfilled aerial bombs, the OPCW said on its website. Libya also reported having almost 1,400 metric tons of precursor chemicals used to produce lethal weapons like the nerve agent sarin, and three chemical weapons production facilities, according to the organization.

“The entire arsenal of aerial bombs was crushed with bulldozers in March 2004, eliminating Libya’s capacity to weaponize” the mustard gas, the OPCW said. Two chemical weapons factories were demolished and a third was turned into a pharmaceutical plant.

Destruction Plans

“With these actions, the Libyan government gave up its ability to manufacture warfare agents from the precursor chemicals,” according to the OPCW.

Work on destroying the mustard gas began in October 2010, with a completion deadline set by the agency of May. Almost 55 percent of the stockpile had been destroyed when work stopped in February, according to the agency, which has since moved the destruction deadline to April 2012, the latest allowed under the treaty.

The organization said in September that Libya’s interim government was taking the measures to control its stockpiles of mustard gas and chemical precursors and secure the bunkers.

The chemical agent has been the subject of “continuous surveillance to assure that it has remained in its storage facilities and has not been tampered with,” Gottemoeller said. “The United States has been working with NATO and with the authorities in Libya to assure that it has remained under surveillance, under guard and lock and key, and that continues to be the case.”

U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said in September that it’s unclear whether Qaddafi disclosed all his biological and chemical weapons.

--Editors: Terry Atlas, Steven Komarow

To contact the reporter on this story: Viola Gienger in Washington at vgienger@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at Msilva34@bloomberg.net.


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