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Pentagon says US mulls helping Libya destroy arms

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, Mar 30 (Reuters) The Pentagon last month sent experts to study Libya's chemical weapons and determined it would cost 100 million dollars to destroy them, but the United States still must decide whether or how much to help, a senior Pentagon official said today.

James Tegnelia, director of the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, said a team from his agency arrived in Libya in February and spent about a month assessing the north African country's ''tens of tons of mustard gas'' and supplies of ''precursor chemicals'' that could be used in making weapons.

''In round numbers, the destruction of the Libyan chemical weapons capabilities is going to be 100 million dollars,'' Tegnelia told a small group of reporters.

Tegnelia said the United States must decide what it wants to do -- if anything at all -- to help destroy these Libyan weapons. He also said the United States must decide whether a better use of a sum like 100 million dollars would be to help secure Russian nuclear weapons that some experts fear could fall into the hands of terrorists.

The United States has taken steps toward restoring commercial relations with OPEC member Libya since the former pariah state announced its intention in December 2003 to abandon its weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological and nuclear arms -- programs and allow in international arms inspectors. Libya remains one of half a dozen countries on a U S list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Tegnelia said that ultimately it was the responsibility of the Libyan government to come into compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, an arms control agreement that prohibits the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons.

''In today's world, it's not like they don't have resources to be able to do that,'' Tegnelia said.

''And the question is: do you want to do everything, do you want to do just the mustard gas, what kind of things do you want to take on? If we were to help them comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention, we've have to destroy the mustard gas and the precursor chemicals,'' Tegnelia said.

Tegnelia said this agency was in the process of creating a proposal for the State Department and Pentagon policymakers on what the United States could do under the Defence Department's Cooperative Threat Reduction program ''to help do away with the Libyan chemical weapons capability.'' REUTERS PR RN0016

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