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Briefing On the History of Libya's WMD Effort and Dismantlement Program and Libya's Renunciation of Terrorism

Paula A. DeSutter, Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation
Washington, DC
September 3, 2008

Additional Speakers: 
Dell L. Dailey, Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Donald A. Mahley, Special Negotiator for Non-Proliferation

 Well, thank you all very much for coming. This is a wonderful turnout for the first day of school. (Laughter.) We have a special briefing this morning on Libya. We’re going to run through our three speakers – each have a few quick opening remarks – and then we will open it up for questions. Our speakers have limited time, so we’ll try and keep to that and let them get back to their workday. 

The order in which we’ll do this: We’ll start with Assistant Secretary Paula DeSutter, who is Assistant Secretary for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation. We also have with us Coordinator for Counterterrorism Dell Dailey and Special Negotiator for Non-Proliferation Don Mahley right here. 

So, without further ado.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DESUTTER: Well, thank you. I think probably a lot of you have been around throughout the Libya process. I think I recognize a few faces. The Verification, Compliance, Implementation Bureau was the lead and coordinator for the U.S. effort to assist Libya in their WMD elimination. And I would remind you of just a couple things.

First, Secretary Rice was, at the time this was negotiated and implemented, the National Security Advisor. And so back in the days when no one within the bureaucracy really knew that this deal was forthcoming, the Secretary was leading that effort to try to get them to make the commitment. Secretary Powell at the time was very much involved and had said, at the very beginning, look, verification and elimination comes first, and only following the verification and elimination are we going to start to have the benefits begin rolling. 

So we had set up benchmarks. And once the Libyans met those benchmarks, there were a clear set of activities that would flow from it. Early on, it was mostly lifting sanctions. There were – there was a interlocking web of international and national sanctions on Libya that, in some cases, made it very difficult even for us to implement the WMD elimination. What was critical at the time was that – and we didn’t know it at the beginning. And we tried to move fast. We wanted to remove especially the proliferation sensitive materials before anybody could change their mind. But what we discovered over time was that the Libyan Government had indeed made a strategic commitment to eliminate their materials, eliminate their WMD programs. And that decision having been made at the top, it was fully implemented. And there was a very cooperative and transparent program – not always smooth, not always easy, but we were able to work those things out.

Don Mahley, at the time, was our senior WMD rep at the beginning when we were trying to move fast and remove materials. Karin Look, who is my Deputy Assistant Secretary, is here and she was – has been the senior WMD rep for – a year and a half, two years?

MS. LOOK: After that – after Don --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DESUTTER: After Don was finished. With that, I’ll just say one other thing. We – the Secretary and I chatted about this a little bit this morning. And she was remarking on how important this model was, and it’s true and we’d like to build upon it. It demonstrated that even when there is a country whose leadership we’ve had very difficult challenges with over a long period of time – if that country changes critical behavior that you have a terrible problem with – in this case, terrorism and WMD acquisition – that change in regime behavior can move – remove the necessity for calling for regime changes other administrations had done.

And with that, I’ll stop and turn it over.

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: My name is Dell Dailey. I’m the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. The Secretary’s September visit to Libya really does show a change and a new chapter in our relationships, our bilateral relationships with Libya. It’s the first visit since 1953, John Foster Dulles, almost 50 years or so – 55 years, so it is a heck of a signal. 

It’s going to allow us to expand cooperation in a lot of areas: education, culture, commerce, science, technology, human rights, and security. My aspect is, of course, counterterrorism security. I’m pleased to be here with folks who have been part of this process for a heck of a long time. I frankly had just watched it up until a year and a half ago as a concerned citizen; saw it as a success story and now, I’m pleased to be a part of it in the governmental perspective.

Coming off of the state sponsor terrorism list is a pretty powerful tool. And both with the Libyans and with the North Koreans, it was a request on their part for us to extend this if they went through the appropriate WMD and nuclear and denuclearization process. It is a model for other countries to use and I’d like to echo what Paula said. We both took it from the same source: from the Secretary. They’ve been off the list since June 2006. And in that timeframe, there’s been some very close cooperation in virtually all the areas of counterterrorism across the national aspect: diplomatic, military, intelligence services, economics. So it’s been a good move.

Where Libya has really been strong as – they’ve slowed down the movement of foreign fighters from their country through North Africa and ultimately, into Iraq. They’ve been good team members and partners on that. They’ve additionally been good team members on looking inside their own borders for potential foreign fighters that have gone across Northern Africa into Iraq. And now, we see a little bit of a shift possibly even into Afghanistan. 

And my final comment is an example of their cooperation not just with the United States, but with there are other countries there, foreign fighters that have moved from Libya into Syria that have been stopped by the Syrians have gone back to Libya. So there is a level of cooperation that’s increased dramatically in this timeframe, too.

With that, I’ll close my comments, turn it over to Don, and I’ll be prepared to field any other questions you have in the future.

AMBASSADOR MAHLEY: Well, thank you. Let me just say that while you heard some sort of overviews up to this point, I’d like to focus for just a minute or so on a vignette which is a specific element of what kind of things we want to talk about concretely from the positive benefits of this kind of cooperation. 

I would like to note that we are in the process, with United States financial assistance, of building in Libya a regional nuclear medical center. Now, this is something which is not yet present in Africa and will allow Libya to assume a role of leadership in some of the preventive medical capabilities that go about there. It is something, obviously, that involves nuclear technology and therefore is possible in Libya only after they made their 2003 decision to get rid of their nuclear weapons programs. It will benefit both the Libyan people and the Libyan Government in terms of its regional capabilities and its regional reputation. It is a significant outlay of United States dollars. It is also a significant outlay of Libyan talent and resources. 

And so with all of that, I think it’s just an example -- and I want to point out that it’s only an example, of the kinds of things that this kind of behavior change by Libya opens the door for and allows us to go forward with in a very cooperative fashion. We’re doing some other things that we’re working with the Libyans on, but I think this is really a centerpiece that they’ve asked for, that satisfies some needs in terms of the use and employment of some of the people that were previously engaged in things of not such useful behavior with their same technologies, and, at the same, time does indeed advance not only Libyan interests, but also interests within the region. 

So with that – with that just as a vignette of an example, I’m like everybody else, I’ll turn it over to questions and answers to folks. Thank you. 

QUESTION: Sue Pleming from Reuters. Could you talk a little bit more about this nuclear medicine unit? How much is it worth? How far along are you? And also, if you could specify a little bit more exactly on where else -- you mentioned educational, scientific, cultural. Could you provide some specifics on exactly where – what you’re going to achieve over the next few months, you think? Or broader if next few months it’s not going to happen. 

AMBASSADOR MAHLEY: Well, let me give you a couple of figures on the nuclear medical center. We’ve got $3 million that are obligated in the current fiscal year. This is of U.S. money, another 11 for the coming fiscal year, and 25 for the following four years after that. 

It is not something which is finished. It is something which we did by a very deliberative process. We decided that we wanted to start a planning process to make sure we strategically had it aligned, we had everybody in place that was going to be able to make it work. We’re now proceeding along that. And this $3 million allocation we have right now is to begin groundbreaking for the construction of this. And we will have it finished, we hope, in about three to four years. 

Now that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be able to use some proceeds from it in the process. But it’s – it’ll be about four years before that’s really, really finished and up and running in all its aspects. 

QUESTION: And how much will the whole thing cost? And what exactly will you be doing in terms of nuclear medicine? Can you give some examples of what this means in layman’s terms?

AMBASSADOR MAHLEY: (Laughter.) It would have to be in layman’s terms since I’m not a nuclear medicine man. 

What this does is it provides for example, a very advanced diagnostic capability as well as some treatment capabilities in which nuclear medicine is a component, when we talk about radiation therapy for some kinds of diseases, as well as the use of radioactive isotopes, for example, in terms of the diagnostic processes you’re going to get. All of this is something which, as I say, organically has been largely missing from the African continent with the exception of South Africa for a whole – for history. And therefore, not only does it provide that, but it provides it in a Libyan base which, frankly, we believe at least will help the Libyan reputation and their capability to cooperate with some of their African colleagues. This is something which is important to the Libyans, as well as is important to us. 

Now, I would note, for example, that the plans for the conversion of Rabta, their former chemical weapons facility, is to make that into a pharmaceutical output in which they’re going to be providing materials in terms of cocktails of medicines and other kinds of things for treating – treatment of AIDS and malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa, so that this is all a part of a general attitude on the part of Libya to be helpful. 

What is going to be the total cost? Frankly, I can’t tell you because a lot of that gets involved with in-kind contributions from the Libyans in terms of labor and operations and ongoing operational expense. So I would say probably it’s going to represent an overall investment of about $35 to $40 million in capital and probably an operating expense of 750,000 to a million, at least, a year. But that’s a very rough estimate and please don’t hold me to that as being an authoritative figure. 
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DESUTTER: Let me draw in one more just a rough data point that has nothing to do with verification. The death rate among women in Africa from breast cancer and cervical cancer is outrageously high and a part of it is the lack of access to diagnostics and treatment. And so the nuclear medicine field where radiation treatment and diagnostics are going to be available far more than they have been before, I think, is going to have a tremendous beneficial effect. 

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Just one more thing on this -- is the Saudi-U.S. funded nuclear medicine thing or is it – are the Libyans putting money into it? I mean, this $38-$40 million, is that just – is it just going to be funded by the U.S.? 

AMBASSADOR MAHLEY: The United States is providing a great amount of the actual capital funding. But as I pointed out, the Libyans are providing both in-kind funding and supplemental funding to that so it is a truly joint operation between the United States and Libya. It does not have other foreign contributors other than the United States.

QUESTION: Are there any other U.S. – I’m sorry, Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News. Are there any foreign companies, like U.S. companies that are involved in either that project or in the pharmaceutical project at the former nuclear plant?

AMBASSADOR MAHLEY: Well, the Rabta conversion, for example, is being done cooperatively with an Italian firm. So yes, there are a number of other countries and a number of other fund sources that are going on within Libya for that. Now, don’t ask me for a catalog of what those are because I can’t tell you.


QUESTION: Can I ask a question of Dell? You mentioned that Libya cut down the flow of foreign fighters – you said greatly reduced, I think. Can you give us any more specifics either by way of numbers or percentages of the numbers that used to go and that you think now are going still through Libya?

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: The movement of foreign fighters from around the world into Iraq is best calibrated by what our forces in Iraq are able to say has taken – has arrived. They assume at this point now that they get approximately 10 to 20 people a month that are foreign fighters from a myriad of countries, probably up to 22-plus. Prior to this time, you could go back about a year, they were receiving somewhere to the neighborhood of 60 to 80.

Now, obviously, Libya’s not integral – is not the factor that slowed down this number. But going into the countries that have provided – I’d say the source countries that provide the foreign fighters – giving them phone numbers and addresses of folks who have departed, who are going to go to Iraq, and letting those local law enforcement officials go back to the families, to the communities, to that area and say, do you know X, Y, and Z about one of your sons or brothers, that has turned out to be a pretty effective tool. And you couple that with interdiction in the air – correction, interdiction through air movement at particular ports, and you couple that with interdiction across the border, and you couple that with actually killing or capturing inside Iraq and we’ve got these reduced numbers.

Excuse me.

QUESTION: Michele Kelemen with National Public Radio. Going to ask – both of you have talked about this as an example, but it’s taken a really long time – you know, you look at what’s happening with North Korea now. They’re backtracking where they are because they’re not formerly off this terrorism list yet. And then on the terrorism side, Qadhafi never accepted responsibility for Pan Am 103. So aren’t you worried that you’re, you know, letting them off without really accepting that responsibility?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DESUTTER: Well, in terms of the model, I’ll start there. One of the things that – I think Libya originally thought that the benefits of moving forward were going to flow really fast. And in terms of the removal of sanctions, that did begin to happen very rapidly. The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, they were removed from that very quickly, the terrorism list. They were the first country ever removed from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. To some degree, there have been impediments --

QUESTION: Hold on one second. Weren’t they removed once before and then put back on? Or is that someone else?

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: I don’t know. I can’t answer that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DESUTTER: I remember when we were working the process, it was very difficult cause it was the first time anybody had been through the process. Maybe a thousand years ago. But for us, they were removed in June 2006, and that’s when we did the process.

So that all has taken a long time. There were some elements where they didn’t want public acclimation, which was difficult for the United States as we were removing the WMD equipment. But they certainly are a demonstration, and I think the Secretary’s visit is going to be a huge demonstration of the fact that by changing behavior a country can change the nature of relations. 

That doesn’t mean that there are no issues between the United States and Libya that are going to have to continue to be worked, just like there are with the hundreds of other countries in the world where we have differences and have to work those things out. But what’s different is that we work those things out as two countries that have a number of common interests and purposes. Libya made the decision to eliminate their WMD without the requirements to be – we didn’t pay them for any of the equipment that we removed, over a thousand tons of WMD-related equipment and documents that we removed from there.

They – there were many cases where Libya took us to facilities that we could have never known about. And so that level of demonstration – in fact, on the biological weapons issues, we said, okay, we are now convinced that there – you know, while there was an early program that’s terminating, how are we going to be sure that you’re not going to pursue that in the future? It’s very difficult to verify. And their answer was, oh, get U.S. companies to come in in co-production with us and then you’ll know everything that we’re doing – a little bit of a misunderstanding about how much U.S. companies report to us. 

But the openness and the transparency – but I think the Secretary’s visit will help be a reminder of the model and help give a very public international face to the fact that countries that change WMD behavior, change terrorism behavior, cooperate with us, have a way forward. It’s not, this or nothing. It’s walk away from the WMD path, make your country more secure, which Qadhafi himself said he had done for Libya. 

Mr. Dailey, did you want –

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: 15 August, 2003, the Libyan Government accepted responsibility for their actions. Whether Qadhafi signed on the dotted line or not, I don’t know. But it was adequate for international courts and national courts to proceed forward, so I think it’s appropriate to accept the fact that they received – they accepted responsibility for it. 

QUESTION: Andrei Sitov from TASS, from Russia. Thank you. Obviously, the Libyan deal is very important. I congratulate the U.S. on achieving it. But there is a much more important relationship that seems to be sort of in limbo at this point. How do you see further contacts, professional contacts with Russia, developing in each of your respective areas? 

MR. MCINTURFF: I think we’re going to keep this on the Libya track for the purpose of the short briefing. But –

QUESTION: Can I ask after --

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: What country did you say? 


AMBASSADOR DAILEY: Sorry, I’m going to just stay on the – inside the bounds. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DESUTTER: I would just give one quick answer, and that is we have hoped very much over the past few years – and I in my role as a verifier – to work closely with the Russians. One of the areas that we hope to work – we’ve hoped to work closely with them on is how to do verification and elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. That, however, is a bit in abeyance, but it’s not because the United States isn’t interested. We’d very much like to work with them. We and the Russians have more experience in verification and elimination than any other countries in the world, and we hope that things can evolve in a positive way so that we can move forward on a post-START agreement that we can bring the Russians back into compliance with their obligations under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and a number of other areas. 

QUESTION: Why is that in abeyance?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DESUTTER: Russia – you may have noticed some activities in Georgia, where --


ASSISTANT SECRETARY DESUTTER: And so we are trying to focus, as a government, on those.

QUESTION: But is it –


QUESTION: Are we putting it in abeyance, or are they? I’m just trying to –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DESUTTER: The Russians haven’t – the Russians put in abeyance their compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. They’ve refused to accept any inspections. They’ve not been providing data. That decision was made a little over a year ago, and then they ceased their compliance – was it December, Karen?

MS. LOOK: In December. 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DESUTTER: And so that has been a focus for us. I think the post-START effort is very important to us, and we’ll try to continue forward. They haven’t been very forthcoming in a number of areas. And on North Korea, I think we just – it remains to be seen. But the Six-Party process continues and their role in the Six-Party process will continue.

QUESTION: One last thing. We’re supposed to present a --

MR. MCINTURFF: Let’s just stick with Libya for now. There was a question in the back here?

QUESTION: Just another question for Ms. De Sutter. Could you give a bit more of a sense the difference it’s been working with the Libyans and the North Koreans? People – the North Koreans now apparently are rebuilding the Yongbyon facility, but people I’ve talked to on the Libya front said it was clear from day one that they’d made a strategic decision, we’re going to do it, and they brought everyone in; and that’s never been the case with the North Koreans, and now you see the situation now. But maybe just a bit more on that, the difference of working with the Libyans and –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DESUTTER: Well, let me start with – let me do it this way. Verification is usually seen in the arms control/nonproliferation world as the hard part. It’s usually very easy to negotiate things, or you negotiate them over a long period of time. You argue about it, and then you go and implement it. But it’s never been seen as a very easy process. That’s why people consider the verifiers to be the skunks at the garden party, and you end up getting people to work verification who like being called skunks at the garden party. That’s who we are. 

And one time, I went to the Secretary. We had brought a piece of missile baffle out of Libya, and I took it to her and gave it to her as a present. And I told her, “Remember back when we were negotiating START with the Russians, and you would spend months and months arguing over how you were going to eliminate a rocket nozzle?” You know, are we going to cut this much or that much, bigger, bigger? And it was very difficult. Okay? You had to – each bit of agreement took a lot of work.

In the Libyan case, there had been some leftover engine equipment.  Our missile team went in and pointed to all of the things that needed to be eliminated. And the Libyans came in with blow torches and sledge hammers, and by the end of the day, all of the things that needed to be eliminated had been eliminated, to the degree where there was no way they could ever be used for those purposes again.

That was a big difference. That’s what was one of the things that was so unique about Libya. Now, we can’t, you know, lose sight of the fact that verification and elimination has always been the hard part. North Korea has made a commitment to end all its nuclear programs, to eliminate them, and we are in the difficult part of trying to move forward to be able to do the work. And it’s more like the old process than our new Libyan model. 

One of the differences is, from beginning to end, the WMD elimination in Libya was done in nine months, nine months to a year. There was ongoing verification, but nine months to a year. There are still a couple things that need to get done. But it happened fast. It happened fast because of that strategic commitment. When we would go to a facility, they would – you know, the facility head would nervously phone Tripoli. Tripoli would tell them, “Let them in.” 

It’s going to be up to North Korea, to some degree, to decide how quickly they want the verification and elimination process to take place, how much they want the United States to be able to testify at the end of the process, as we did in the Libya case, that we have reasonable confidence that we’ve been able to verify it. They can make it difficult. They can make it take a long time. They can ensure that, at the end of the process, we don’t have the level of confidence that everybody in the world, especially here in the U.S., would like to see in that process. 

We have to take it a day at a time and see what we can do. We know what verification would entail. Obviously, North Korea’s program is far, far more extensive than what Libya had, and so even under a best-case scenario with a strategic commitment by North Korea, it would take longer. It would be more difficult. We’re prepared to do that work. Obviously, the verifiers have been worrying about how to do this for quite a long time. And so the – doing that work will be difficult.

QUESTION: You seem to be suggesting that you’re not quite sure that the North Koreans have made – that Kim Jong-il has made the same decision that Qadhafi did. Is that correct?

And secondly, can – are you sure now that they are, in fact, reassembling Yongbyon?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY DESUTTER: In answer to the first question, I have yet to see the sort of things that we would look for as a strategic commitment. However, if we get on the ground and begin the verification process and elimination process in a real way, then we’ll be able to judge in a little bit better fashion.

As for Yongbyon, I’ve got to tell you I’ve been on leave for a while. And my guys said, “I’ve got to show you what’s going on.” But you know, everyone has known from the beginning that the actions they were taking at Yongbyon were reversible. The question is: Are they deciding that they just want to blow it off, or are they just posturing? They like to posture.

MR. MCINTURFF: Let’s have the last question. I know Dell Dailey has to leave here. 

QUESTION: Why, in your opinion, Qadhafi took this strategic decision?

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: You mean from a counterterrorism perspective?


AMBASSADOR DAILEY: I think he had spent enough time kind of on the outside of the international society and realized that turning around his nuclear program, and also soliciting to be taken off the state sponsor list, would be an advantage for him to reintegrate in the international community. As a strategic decision, I’m not sure if the North Koreans have done that or not.

QUESTION: There were lots of rumors in the Middle East that it wasn’t Libya, it was Syria with Ahmed Jibril, who was a Palestinian leader, who attacked the Pan Am 103. What do you say to this?

AMBASSADOR DAILEY: Well, I think we have a pretty good legal justification of who was at fault and who was guilty, and that speculation is just speculation.

MR. MCINTURFF: I think we’re going to have to wrap it up there.

QUESTION: You don’t have a minute to ask about Pakistan, do you?

MR. MCINTURFF: Thank you all very much for coming. I think we’re going to wrap it up there.


Released on September 3, 2008

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