TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, whose country abandoned weapons of mass destruction programs in 2003, said that at one stage Libya had come close to building a nuclear bomb, the Libyan news agency reported on Monday.
It was the first time any Libyan official has confirmed that the north African country of more than five million had been trying to build a nuclear bomb.
“It is true that Libya came close to building a nuclear bomb. This is no longer a secret … as everything was laid bare by the International Atomic (Energy) Agency for everyone to see,” the agency quoted Gaddafi as saying on Sunday in a speech to Libyan engineers.
“The programs and equipment (to build a nuclear bomb) are known,” he added.
Gaddafi, who was speaking mainly about the need for economic self-reliance, referred to Libya’s efforts to gain the bomb as one of several examples of Libyans being successful in challenging endeavors. He gave no further details.
The main point of Gaddafi’s speech was to say that he wanted to limit the role of foreigners in the economy to ensure as much of the country’s wealth as possible stayed at home.
In December 2003 Libya said it was abandoning its weapons of mass destruction programs and would allow in international weapons inspectors.
The move was the most startling of several by Libya that helped the OPEC oil producer repair relations with the West after decades of estrangement.
The U.S. government said in May that it would restore formal ties with Tripoli and take Libya off the list of countries deemed state sponsors of terrorism.
Gaddafi, elaborating on a long-standing explanation for his abandonment of confrontation with the West, said the time for spending large amounts of money on supporting political movements overseas was now over.
Although the support was a “must” at the time, it was clear that the effort had used up large amounts of resources.
“All revolutionaries used to come to the (Libyan) revolution for help. Revolutionaries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, sought our help, even the IRA (Irish Republican Army),” he said.
“I put a stop to this because we spent a great deal of money on the military side, not only in terms of construction.”
He said Libya had taken part in a “battle” for Arab nationalism, but this era was now over.
“There were hopes and aspirations to have a strong nationalist entity of which we would be a part, expanding from Iraq to Morocco, for example. This no longer valid,” he said. “Arabs would be one nation … Unfortunately this has failed and that era ended and a new era began.”
“We have to learn lessons.”