Libya Tried to Blackmail U.S. Over HEU, Cables Say

(Nov. 30) -Uranium enrichment centrifuges intercepted in a shipment to Libya in 2003. A son of Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qadhafi last year demanded financial and diplomatic concessions from the United States in return for the last of his country's highly enriched uranium, according to leaked State Department documents (U.S. Energy Department photo).
(Nov. 30) -Uranium enrichment centrifuges intercepted in a shipment to Libya in 2003. A son of Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qadhafi last year demanded financial and diplomatic concessions from the United States in return for the last of his country's highly enriched uranium, according to leaked State Department documents (U.S. Energy Department photo).

For a one-month period in late 2009 during the last stages of a Russian-U.S. effort to remove weapon-grade uranium from Libya, the security of some of the nuclear material was put at risk when a member of the Qadafi family demanded weapons and money from Washington, the Atlantic reported on Saturday (see GSN, April 27).

Last November, the last of Libya's stockpile of highly enriched uranium -- about 11.5 pounds housed in seven casks -- was being prepared for transport on board a specially outfitted Russian airplane. One day before the material was scheduled to leave the North African state, however, Libyan officials announced that the material -- enough to build a radiological "dirty bomb" -- could not leave the country and the containers were left exposed with a small guard detail in a region where al-Qaeda operatives are still active.

The nuclear security episode was revealed through the leaking of U.S. State Department cables to a handful of news organizations. Important aspects of the incident were verified by an international weapons inspector and a U.S. official.

The casks were designed to store the nuclear material for only a short period of time, putting them at risk of cracking. U.S. officials were also surprised to discover that just one armed guard was watching over the containers at one point.

Several days after the uranium was supposed to have been withdrawn, the U.S. Embassy in Libya was notified by a son of Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qadhafi, Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, that he was "fed up" with Washington, according to the State Department documents. He informed U.S. officials that he would "fix" the HEU security issue if his requests were met.

He reportedly demanded from the United States a large monetary sum, weapons equipment, aid in constructing a civilian nuclear facility and the easing of economic sanctions against his country. Saif also urged that Washington make the symbolic gesture of having President Obama meet with his father.

The U.S. representative to Libya reportedly told Saif that the Libyan government had "chosen a very dangerous issue on which to express its apparent pique about perceived problems in the bilateral relationship," according to a U.S. Embassy account of the conversation.

There is no indication that Saif's blackmail demands were met by the Obama administration but on December 7 he notified the U.S. embassy that the uranium could now be loaded onto the Russian aircraft. He reportedly said he had been mollified by a December 3 phone conversation between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to her Libyan counterpart, Musa Kusa. The material was eventually flown out of Libya on December 21.

The U.S. Embassy had reportedly requested that Clinton in her phone call make "a general statement of commitment to the relationship [with Libya], a commitment to work with the Libyans to move the relationship ahead, and a strong point insisting that the (uranium) shipment be allowed to go forward immediately" (Max Fisher, The Atlantic, Nov. 27).

November 30, 2010
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For a one-month period in late 2009 during the last stages of a Russian-U.S. effort to remove weapon-grade uranium from Libya, the security of some of the nuclear material was put at risk when a member of the Qadafi family demanded weapons and money from Washington, the Atlantic reported on Saturday (see GSN, April 27).

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