It turns out that Libyan ruler’s days as the generator of political turbulence are not over. Storms are again swirling around Col. Muammar Qaddafi in Washington, London, and as far north as Edinburgh.
A prime factor lurking behind the hubbub, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s North African sources report, is the Libyan ruler’s threat to go back partway on his 2003 agreement to dismantle Libya’s weapons of mass destruction and long-range missile programs. This is kept dark by common consent.
At the time, his landmark agreement was hailed by the Bush administration as a major foreign policy breakthrough and a model to encourage other rogue regimes. Four years ago, Qaddafi, terrorist sponsor and owner of a private WMD stash, was deeply impressed by the US-UK-led invasion of Iraq. He decided to be prudent and offer to give up his forbidden weapons before he suffered the same fate as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
By 2007, times had changed. The Libyan ruler took note that the US and Britain are beginning to turn their armies back from Iraq without a clear victory.
Free of the threat of a US invasion and in consideration of the drastically changed geopolitical circumstances in the Arab world, Qaddafi feels he can safely back away from at least part of the agreement he signed in 2003, the section on chemical agents.
Specifically, he informed Washington that he intends to withdraw from the clause requiring the destruction by June 14 of Libya’s mustard gas stocks, estimated at 23 metric tons.
US officials replied by holding him to his commitment.
Up until now, Qaddafi has allowed more than 1,000 metric tons of nuclear and missile equipment to be shipped out of Libya and 3,500 chemical-weapons capable munitions to be destroyed.
In December 2006, the US and Libya signed a further contract requiring all remaining chemical agents to be destroyed in 2007. Washington agreed to cover 75% of the cost, roughly $45 m. But then, Qaddafi stalled, citing America’s refusal to cover 100% of the cost. Suspecting him of trying to get more money out of the United States, officials in Washington appeared willing to meet him half way and get the destruction project over and done with.
Qaddafi needs mustard gas “to protect Western investments”
However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources now learn that information reaching Washington quotes Qaddafi as informing Western businessmen on recent visits to Tripoli that he felt he had gone far enough to meet his commitment to Washington regarding the destruction of his WMD. After all, his nuclear installations and most of his chemical systems had been dismantled. Now, he said, he needs to keep back certain chemical weapon stocks to be able to protect substantial Western investments in his country, including American oil companies’ projects for developing Libya’s oil resources.
He mentioned, for instance, the $5.4 bn deal for private equity giant Colony Capital to purchase the Libyan Oilinvest energy company and Tamoil Africa Holding. Tamoil’s Uganda-based subsidiary won the tender to build, operate and transfer the Kenya-Uganda oil pipeline.
Washington now fears that Qaddafi is dickering over his chemical stocks as the prelude to more horse-trading over the dismantling of his medium and short-range surface missiles.
No details have ever been published about Libya’s missiles or whether they were indeed destroyed. The presumption in Western intelligence circles is that Qaddafi has kept them tucked away. On the other hand, he would much rather trade in his obsolete missiles for up-to-date models and technology, for which he has begun shopping on international markets.
This was confirmed by Libyan officials in conversation with Guy Griffiths, chief operating officer of MBDA, the pan-European manufacturer of missiles, who was in Tripoli in May with the delegation accompanying British prime minister Tony Blair on his farewell visit to Qaddafi before leaving office.
Two governments, North Korea and Iran, are closely watching the Libyan ruler’s machinations to see how much he extorts from Washington and London for dismantling the rest of his weapons. A senior American official confided to our Washington sources that if Libya’s willingness to divest itself of WMD was once a feather in the Bush administration’s hat in the effort to curtail nuclear proliferation, Qaddafi is now a liability and an undesirable role model for rogue governments.
The Lockerbie affair comes back to haunt the Libyan ruler
The 2003 chemical weapons clause is not the only one which Qaddafi is trying to back out of. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources report that Qaddafi is seeking the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, one of the two Libyan agents tried for involvement in the deaths of 270 people in the December 1988 Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.
He was tried under Scottish law at a special court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands and is serving a life sentence in Gateside Prison near Glasgow.
The Libyan ruler is not exactly concerned about Al-Megrahi’s personal fate, but three unforeseen problems have cropped up to bedevil him:
1. The jailed agent is spreading word through visitors that Qaddafi broke a personal promise to get him out of jail after a short time if he played ball and turned himself in. Al Megrahi is fed up with his boss’s failure to make good on his promise and has decided to spill some unsavory beans. He threatens to go to the Scottish and American authorities and finger the Libyan high-ups who planned the Pan Am hijack, as well as testifying to Qaddafi’s personal involvement in terrorist activity. In return, Al Megrahi will expect to have his sentenced commuted.
He is also offering to testify against Qaddafi if the Lockerbie case is retried in return for life-long protection in a country of his choice and a guarantee never to extradite him to Libya.
2. The Al Megrahi case is also stirring up dissatisfaction among Libyan secret service officers, on whom the Qaddafi regime relies heavily for its stability. They have always resented their boss’s surrender of two of their colleagues in the Lockerbie affair in breach of the unwritten law that protects secret operations agents from betrayal by their own governments when on missions on their behalf. Libya’s undercover elite feels the two secret agents were thrown to the wolves as scapegoats to buy Qaddafi international acceptance. They kept silent in the hope that he would eventually buy their freedom. But an episode this month rekindled their anger. On June 6, the trial began in Italy of 26 American defendants accused of kidnapping the terror suspect, Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, off a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003, and handing him over to Egypt where he was allegedly tortured.
Not a single CIA agent was present in the courtroom. They were protected by their government, unlike their own comrades.
3. Qaddafi has also been losing sleep over the activities in Britain of the cells of an underground group called the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group – LIFG, which is dedicated to overthrowing him and replacing him with a fundamentalist Islamic ruler.
A Blair-Qaddafi deal takes shape
The Libyan ruler had long demanded that London hand over LIFG cell members if the British want gigantic oil and weapons transactions with Tripoli to go through. He badly wants to interrogate them to find out whether they are supported from inside Libya’s secret services or military command by officers conspiring for his ouster.
With these three problems preying on his mind, Qaddafi took advantage of Blair’s May visit and their signature on lucrative deals. They cover the instatement of British Petroleum in Libya with $900 m to spend on gas exploration, and the sale of British anti-air, anti-tank missiles and other weapons systems.
Secret talks had reportedly begun for a memorandum of understanding that could lead to Al-Megrahi being sent back to Libya.
Ten Downing Street denied any such talks had taken place. The denial did not wash with Scottish prime minister Alex Salmond. He protested that the British premier had no right to act in this matter without consulting with the Scottish government.
Suspicions of a Blair-Qaddafi deal were fueled Monday, June 11, when three men, accused of “helping to fund a Libyan terrorist group” were jailed by the Kingston Crown Court in the UK for a total of eight years. Ismail Kamoka, from London, Abdul Bourouag from Birmingham and Khaled Abusalama from Smethwick, who were arrested on Dec. 5, 2005 pleaded guilty at their timely trial.
The speed with which this case was wrapped up days after Blair returned from Tripoli, together with the Scottish prime minister’s protest add substance to the suspicion that Blair and Qaddafi had struck a deal over the Libyan dissidents sheltering in Britain and the Lockerbie terror-planner jailed in Scotland.