Does Gaddafi Have Chemical Weapons to Use?

(March 25, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) With a military intervention by Western powers underway to supposedly protect Libyan civilians from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, one might wonder what Gaddafi’s next move might be. His behavior during speeches prior to the intervention demonstrated Gaddafi is an erratic individual. He has suggested he would enlist the help of al-Qaeda to prevent Libyans from driving him from power. He has also said “I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired…when I do, everything will burn.”

Is Gaddafi a leader that would use chemical weapons (i.e. mustard gas) on his people?

US State Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks show the US has worked with other countries to ensure that Libya abandoned its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program. It offered incentives for Libya to cooperate. But, cables that have been released suggest a slight possibility that Gaddafi still has chemical weapons materials.

One cable released details a visit by UK chemical weapons experts early in July 2008. They met Dr. Ahmed Hesnawy, the government of Libya’s (GOL) chief interlocutor on chemical weapons issues. One of the experts, Chris Rampling, stresses “the need for greater transparency from the GOL as to the reasons that conversion of the Rabta Chemical Weapons Production Facility (CWPF) from chemical weapons to pharmaceuticals production had been delayed.”

Hesnawy blames Italian company PharmaChem for delays in the conversion. Rampling urges “the GOL to be more transparent about the contract with Italian firm SIPSA Engineering for destruction of chemical agent at Rabta.” Hesnawy appears to agree that “greater transparency could help alleviate concerns about Libya’s activities,” but when asked if a contract with SIPSA has been signed, he complains.

…the Italian Embassy in Tripoli had called regularly - "they are pushing us too hard on this" - to ask whether the contract had been signed, Hesnawy stressed that Libya would "sign when we're ready to sign, and not before". As reported reftel, Hesnawy told us in June that contract negotiations with SIPSA had been completed and terms were mutually understood; however, the contract itself had not yet been formally approved by all relevant GOL entities. (Note: Rampling told us that despite the fact that Italian officials in Rome and at the OPCW deny that Italy's government has played a direct role in the SIPSA contract, Italian Embassy officials in Tripoli freely admitted that they were actively involved in trying to get the contract finalized and signed. End note.) Hesnawy expressed confidence that Libya would "easily meet" the deadline for destruction of its chemical agent…

Hesnawy’s pledge appears to be enough as the cable says the “UK team was ‘greatly reassured’ by its visit to the Rabta CWPF.” The team was able to enjoy full access and take photographs during a visit that lasted more than five hours. The UK team was not allowed to visit the chemical weapons destruction facility as Hesnawy told the team, “Only site preparation work was underway there, and that there was nothing of substance to see.” This, however, does not appear to be a problem for the UK team.

In a cable put together in preparation for Muatassim Gaddafi’s trip to Washington in April 2009, the disarming of chemical weapons facilities is mentioned. Gaddafi’s son appears to be crucial in convincing Libya to fully disarm:

… The logistics to ship 4.6kg of highly enriched uranium to Russia in September 2009 have yet to be set and the conversion of the Rabta chemical weapons facilities to peaceful use has suffered periodic delays. U.S. and UK members of the Tri-lateral Steering Committee charged with monitoring the disarmament report that Libyan progress is sporadic and that periodic unresponsiveness is often blamed on high-ranking regime members' perception that Libya was not getting enough in return for its actions. The GOL has repeatedly called for specific, large projects that, in their view, will demonstrate to the public (and conservative regime members) that the decision to disarm and re-engage was the right one. For example, Muatassim has recently pressed for a civilian nuclear project, mirroring earlier calls for a power-generating or a desalination facility built by a U.S. firm. More conservative regime elements see the WMD decision as a crucial bargaining chip too easily given away and this drives the Qadhafi efforts to show that the policy change toward the U.S. was a beneficial one. If he is successful in Washington, Muatassim can be a key messenger to them that Libya will see further rewards and that further cooperation is possible…

But, in July of 2009, an action request is sent out by then-US Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz. Someone whose name has been redacted claimed the Libya government was deliberately delaying the implementation of its commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to destroy its remaining stockpile of declared chemical weapons (approximately 25 MT of mustard agent and 860 MT of chemical agent precursor chemicals).” They are supposed to destroy their mustard stockpile by December 31, 2010 and then their remaining inventory of precursor chemicals by December 31, 2011.

The Italian company SIPSA has been working with Libya on a Rabta Toxic Chemicals Destruction Facility but the government repeatedly has delayed the signing of a contract. Gaddafi is allegedly stalling because he would like Libya to get more compensation. Furthermore, the diplomat says the GOL has repeatedly delayed signing a contract with SIPSA. The person whose name is redacted suggests “even if construction were to begin immediately” it is highly unlikely the GOL “would meet the deadlines for destruction of its mustard agent and precursors.”

Cretz comments:

The GOL has been credited with having largely met its WMD commitments; however, the recent track record is worrisome and suggests that it may be deliberately delaying implementation of commitments it has undertaken under the rubric of the U.S.-U.K.-Libya Tri-lateral Steering and Coordination Committee (TSCC) and multi-lateral mechanisms such as the OPCW. The GOL has delayed since November 2007 signing a U.S.-Libya agreement for the return of spent nuclear fuel (the HEU-LEU agreement); delayed signing a parallel Russia-Libya agreement; given no detail on plans to sell its uranium yellowcake stockpile; delayed signing the SIPSA contract and delayed providing greater detail on its proposed retention of the sandbag enclosure at the Rabta facility.

Months later, a cable on US Senator John McCain’s visit to Libya indicates “Libya's signing of the agreement to transfer its highly enriched uranium to Russia for treatment and disposal, an action that must be taken prior to August 15, 2009, if Libya is going to meet the September deadline for disposal” is still an issue. Additionally, it notes Libya would like a Regional Nuclear Medicine Center to be established as part of the agreement to destroy the weapons.

Then, on September 30, a cable shows Dr. Hesnawy asked for an extension request on the deadline for the chemical weapons destruction.. Dr. Hesnawy gives a “long explanation” for why he should have an extension claiming “local residents complained about the idea of a CW destruction facility being built in their neighborhood and alerted environmental authorities to their concerns; then "all hell broke loose.’” He claims an "environmental agency" began asking tough questions regarding the emissions that would be released by the facility and requested verification of a number of control standards. Hesnawy bragged that he had successfully answered the questions and had come to an agreement with the agency.

This does not pass a smell test for US officials. The diplomat considers what Hesnawy is saying to be plausible except for “the alleged grassroots movement.” The diplomat writes, “Given tight Libyan Government controls over national security facilities and programs, we find it hard to believe that a grassroots movement could affect Libyan policy or action on a sensitive program such as the Rabta facility.”

But, the diplomat does not question Hesnawy’s suggesion that “civil defense people” are “concerned about securing the transfer of the chemical weapons and precursor materials from the storage to destruction sites” and have “demanded that emergency procedures be developed to ensure quick and appropriate response in the event of an accident or leak. A note included reads, “The containers currently housing the material were in fact leaking” when at least one UK official observed them.

Dr. Hesnawy does say “the ground has been leveled and fencing and gates have been put in place. Water and energy sources have been built for the facility,” which to the diplomat is a positive development.

Most curious is this “bio note” on Hesnawy. The diplomat describes Hesnawy as a “charismatic and gregarious character, who spoke fluent American English,” one who “used American expressions and slang with ease.” And someone whose name is redacted is noted as saying “ Hesnawy may be working with National Security Advisor, Muatassim al-Qadhafi, on missile purchase requests.”, making it possible that some quid pro quo has been going on in the effort to get Libya to destroy its chemical weapons.

On March 2, Reuters reported US intelligence agencies do not know where Libya’s stockpile of agents (precursor materials) for chemical weapons are located. Reuters also reported that Gaddafi had stepped up security around Libya’s principal remaining stock pile of agents used in chemical weapons.

There are doubts as to whether gas in the government’s possession is weaponized and usable in a strike against opposition or Western forces. The mustard gas, according to Mark Hosenball, is “probably badly degraded.”

Nonetheless, as of March 6, the IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog agency was worried about diplomatic isolation, trade and the battles that were breaking out and feared chemical weapons might be used.

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica quoted former Libyan Justice Minister Abdel Jalil Musatafà, who said, “Gaddafi still has large stocks of chemical weapons. Surely the nerve gas, anthrax,” and perhaps even a weaponized form of smallpox.”

It does not seem likely, given what is in the aforementioned cables, that Libya would have met set deadlines for destruction.

Either there isn’t really much of a chemical weapons threat or the Western powers of the world that are intervening aren’t talking openly about chemical weapons because they do not want to provoke Gaddafi. Whatever the case may be, it is evident the cables reveal another layer of diplomatic foreign relations, one that involves figuring out how to handle leaders who realize they can get a lot of what they want if they play a waiting game with foreign leaders.

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