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Libya Backs Out of CW Destruction Agreement

Alex Bollfrass

Vowing to take sole responsibility for destroying its chemical weapons, Libya has annulled its contract with the United States. The Libyan government cancelled the agreement, effective June 14, because of dissatisfaction with its provisions on liability, financing, and facility ownership.

Department of State spokesperson Nancy Beck told Arms Control Today June 18 that Libya had given notice in May that “it was exercising its option to withdraw from the government-to-government contract, citing concerns about indemnification, cost-sharing, and the disposition of the equipment used to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles.”

Despite the contract’s abrogation, the State Department described Libya’s actions as “a model of nonproliferation.”

Under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), to which Libya acceded in May 2004, Libya is obligated to destroy its stockpile by the end of 2010. The U.S.-Libyan agreement was signed in December 2006.

The bilateral agreement arranged for major U.S. assistance to the technically challenging and costly effort of eliminating chemical weaponry in the Libyan desert. In addition to destroying 23.6 metric tons of mustard gas, Libya must abolish around 1,300 metric tons of precursor chemicals to comply with the convention.

Beck also said that the United States had “demonstrated flexibility on indemnification and equipment disposition.” In particular, the equipment-disposition discussions focused on whether the U.S.-built destruction facility would be given or sold to Libya, and if it would be removed after completion. The indemnification deliberations centered on who would be liable for potential damages.

The State Department’s description leaves unclear whether Libya did not consider the United States flexible enough on these two matters or if the parties could not agree on financing, the third grievance cited by Libya. Under the contract’s terms, the United States would have contributed $45 million and Libya around $15 million.

Another U.S. official familiar with the issue told Arms Control Today on June 18 that money did not seem to be the pivotal issue and that Libya simply decided that it was too cumbersome to have the U.S. government involved. The official also expressed confidence that Libya is dedicated to destroying its stockpile.

Libyan representatives in the United States said they were not involved in the decision and declined to speculate on their government’s reasons. The Libyan ambassador to Washington, Ali Aujali, said he was generally not occupied with such “technical matters.”

The United States also is assisting chemical weapons destruction in Albania and Russia, where it has encountered similar challenges. Albania on April 29 became the first state to miss its destruction deadline under the CWC, officially blaming the delay on local weather conditions.

Russian officials have voiced complaints nearly identical to Libya’s over U.S. aid to its stockpile destruction efforts. Construction of the Shchuch’ye facility in particular has been held up by squabbles between the governments. (See ACT, May 2007 .)