Denied tent in US, Gaddafi delayed n-fuel disposal

Saturday, December 4, 2010

NEW YORK - Libya’s mercurial leader Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi delayed the removal of a small stockpile of nuclear fuel from the country after he was not permitted to set up a tent in Manhattan or to visit ground zero during a UN session, according to a WikiLeaks expose.

On Nov 25, 2009, a Russian cargo plane left Libyan capital Tripoli on a “secret mission” without its intended cargo.

In an urgent message to Washington, US embassy officials in Tripoli warned of dire consequences unless the deal to remove the 5.2 kg of highly enriched uranium stored in seven casks was quickly resurrected, The New York Times reported Saturday.

If the enriched uranium “is not removed from the casks within three months, its rising temperature could cause the casks to crack and to release radioactive nuclear material,” the US embassy said, according to cables made public by WikiLeaks.

Libya had agreed in 2003 to dismantle its weapons programme in exchange for greater military, security and economic cooperation.

Libya had reached separate agreements with the US and Russia, and had already agreed to pay $30,000 to have the Russians remove the material and bury it in a secure location.

“The Libyan government has chosen a very dangerous issue on which to express its apparent pique about perceived problems in the bilateral relationship,” US Ambassador to Libya Gene A. Cretz, wrote to Washington.

Libya reportedly committed the unexpected act after Gaddafi was not permitted to set up his tent in Manhattan or to visit the site of the 9/11 terror attack during a UN session.

The other countries did not realise the “scope of the colonel’s anger” till Nov 20, 2009, when the Libyan government ordered a team of visiting US and Russian scientists to halt preparations to ship the spent nuclear fuel to Russia.

Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam el-Gaddafi told the US ambassador Nov 27 that Libya halted the shipping of the uranium stockpile because it was “fed up” with the slow pace of improved relations with Washington.

The diplomats said if the uranium was not sent to Russia soon, scientists would have to “develop entirely new and risky technology” to remove the fuel from the casks in Libya itself.

In the next few weeks, according to the leaked diplomatic cables, US and Russian officials spoke to the Libyans to disengage the research centre’s loading crane to prevent an intruder from moving the casks. Extra security guards were sent to the site.

Diplomats noted that there was only one guard with a gun and they raised doubts whether that was even loaded.

By late December 2009, a Russian aircraft was back in Tripoli, and US energy department officials said the casks were reloaded Dec 20-21.

Libyan officials, however, did not say what was the reason behind the government’s “about-face”.

On Dec 21 at 5.15 a.m., the Russian plane took off, and the US officials later confirmed that the flight and its “secret cargo” had arrived in Russia.

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