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'Historic and courageous move'.

Byline: Bill Doult

Historic news that Libya admits building weapons of mass destruction (WMD) - but will start dismantling them - was unveiled in the North-east last night by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

It followed a covert approach earlier this year to the UK by Colonel Gaddafi and nine months of top secret talks between Britain, the US and the Libyans.

Libya revealed to British and American defence experts its attempts to build nuclear and chemical weapons as well as details of its long-range missile programmes.

This also confirmed that the Gaddafi regime was close to developing nuclear weapons capability.

The Prime Minister chose Durham as his setting to disclose that Libya has now agreed to abandon its weapons of mass destruction.

At a special press conference held in the city, Mr Blair described the move as "historic and courageous" which entitled Libya to rejoin the international community.

The dramatic news last night sent shock waves around the Middle East and opened an important new chapter in attempts to bring peace to the region.

But the Prime Minister indicated there are even wider implications to other "rogue" states such as North Korea and Iran.

For Mr Blair said Libya's move showed it was possible to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction by peaceful means.

And he promised that countries which agreed to abandon such weapons would find "ready partners" in the UK and US.

This was confirmed by President George Bush who said: "With today's announcement by its leader, Libya has begun the process of rejoining the community of nations."

President Bush also said Colonel Gaddafi's commitment, once it was fulfilled, would make for a safer and more peaceful world.

For Mr Blair this announcement comes as a long overdue relief that the fight against international terror is beginning to work.

Today the Libyan leader said he had made a "wise decision and a courageous step" to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction.

He insisted that the nation had acted of "its own free will" rather than bowing to pressure from the United States and Britain.

He said the move was to serve as an example to other countries in the Middle East "without exception", an apparent reference to Israel, which has long been believed to possess nuclear weapons.

Gaddafi said in a statement that his country wanted to take the lead "in building a new world free of weapons of mass destruction and all kinds of terrorism, with the aim of preserving international peace and security and progress for humanity".

The foreign ministry statement said that Libya "decided by its own free will to get rid of these materials, equipment and programmes and to be completely free of internationally prohibited weapons", and "believes that the arms race does not serve its security and the region's security".

Gaddafi, who came to power in a military coup, said that ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction would also help promote "popular democracy" and to "meet ecological challenges so that the colour green will prevail all over the globe".

However, the foreign ministry statement added that Libya's call "did not receive serious response ... so Libya endeavoured to develop its defence capabilities".
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Dec 20, 2003
Words:532
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