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German-flagged ship "BBC China" carried Libyan centrifuge shipment in Sept.

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  • MewNews Editor
    Washington Post Ship Incident May Have Swayed Libya Centrifuges Intercepted in September By Robin Wright Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, January 1,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2004
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      Washington Post
      Ship Incident May Have Swayed Libya
      Centrifuges Intercepted in September
      By Robin Wright
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Thursday, January 1, 2004; Page A18


      U.S. and British intelligence services discovered in
      late September that a freighter bound for Libya was
      hauling thousands of parts for centrifuges, a key
      component for producing nuclear weapons, senior U.S.
      officials said yesterday. Officials said the
      interception of the cargo, worth tens of millions of
      dollars, was a factor in pressuring Libya to give up
      its deadliest weapons programs.

      The shipment was headed from Dubai in the United Arab
      Emirates, an interim transshipment point, aboard a
      German ship. With help from the German government and
      the German shipping company, the United States was
      able to get the freighter, BBC China, diverted to a
      port in southern Italy shortly after it passed through
      the Suez Canal.

      Officials boarded the ship in Italy in early October
      and seized the cargo, which was not listed on the
      ship's manifest, U.S. officials said. The craft was
      less than two days from docking in Libya.

      The Bush administration believes the intelligence coup
      accelerated Libya's cooperation. Although secret talks
      on Libya's programs for producing weapons of mass
      destruction had begun about six months earlier,
      Moammar Gaddafi's government had not yet given a date
      for U.S. and British intelligence to visit
      weapons-development sites. After the interdiction,
      U.S. and British inspectors were in Libya within two
      weeks, U.S. officials said.

      Other U.S. officials, however, said they were
      concerned at the time that the seizure might undermine
      the attempt to win Libya's cooperation. "Quite the
      contrary. It could have derailed the effort," said a
      well-placed U.S. official who spoke on the condition
      of anonymity.

      The operation, details of which were reported
      yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, was the first
      interdiction under the new Proliferation Security
      Initiative, an agreement among 11 countries to stop
      and search planes and ships suspected of carrying
      banned weapons or missile technology. Seizure of the
      cargo proves the initiative's importance as a new tool
      in tracking and curtailing the spread of weapons
      technology, U.S. officials said.

      "It's clearly a success for the proliferation
      initiative, but it's also an allied success,
      especially for the Germans and Italians," a senior
      administration official said. He described the German
      government and the shipping company as "extremely

      The secret shipment also offered insight into Libya's
      arms programs. Although U.S. intelligence was aware of
      Libya's chemical weapons program, Washington was
      surprised by Tripoli's ongoing interest in developing
      nuclear arms.

      The administration is reluctant to provide details of
      the operation or the source of the parts. U.S.
      officials said the shipment did not come from
      Pakistan, which has been linked to sales of nuclear
      technology to other countries. "The technology we're
      talking about was stolen years ago from Urenco, a
      European consortium. It was used in Pakistan to enrich
      uranium, but it was also used elsewhere. There's a
      black market in this material," the senior U.S.
      official said.

      A European official said a private Pakistani arms
      specialist is being investigated.

      After the discovery, the United States tracked the
      German freighter, U.S. officials said. Most of the
      operation was conducted by U.S. intelligence with no
      U.S. military involvement. U.S. officials boarded the
      ship after it docked in Taranto, Italy.

      U.S. officials aren't sure why Gaddafi was reaching
      out to the international community and pledging
      privately to disarm as his government was acquiring a
      large shipment of weapons-development equipment.

      Centrifuges of the kind found on the German ship can
      be used to develop weapons-grade uranium for use in
      nuclear weapons. On Sunday, U.N. investigators in
      Libya were shown dozens of centrifuges and other
      equipment, although no evidence was found that the
      country had enriched uranium. Mohamed ElBaradei,
      director of the International Atomic Energy Agency,
      said Monday the equipment indicated that Libya was at
      an "early stage" of its weapons program.

      Staff writers Dana Priest and Thomas E. Ricks
      contributed to this report.

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