U.S. sanctions against Libya began in 1982 after the Gulf of Sidra incident of 1981. Two Sukhoi Su-22 fighters had engaged USAF F-14s operating off the U.S.S. Nimitz, and had been destroyed. The initial embargo was just on oil. But it was the start of a decade that saw Qaddafi increasingly isolated from the West as he moved closer to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and turned to using terrorism to facilitate his foreign policy. In 1986 there was another clash in the Gulf of Sidra, in which 35 seamen were killed on a Libyan patrol boat that was in international waters. Qaddafi called for worldwide terrorist strikes against U.S. interests, and then proceeded to orchestrate one himself in West Berlin. A bombing at the La Belle discotheque claimed the lives of two U.S. servicemen, a Turkish woman and injured 230 individuals. Ronald Reagan responded with airstrikes on Tripoli and imposed broad economic sanctions.

Libya was then implicated in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie. UN sanctions were imposed in 1992 and UNSCRs passed in 1992 and 1993 which required Libya to accept responsibility, pay appropriate compensation, and hand over two individuals for trial. One of these requirements was completed in 1999 when they handed over two individuals to be charged before a Scottish court in the Netherlands. The full lifting of the sanctions by the UN occurred on September 12, 2003 when Libya released $2.7 billion in funds and accepted responsibility. At the time of writing, US sanctions remain, but probably not for much longer.

Qaddafi has been trying to bring about a rapprochement with the West for some time, following the extreme isolation that plagued him in the 1990s after the collapse of the USSR. He is also faced with domestic problems brought about by Islamist extremism and disquiet in parts of the military, which is attributed to his economic problems. Libyan envoys approached British officials on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom to discuss a deal which would involve them destroying their weapons of mass destruction and dismantling the production process in return for normalisation. Tripoli has apparently provided so much access to facilities and weaponry that Bush and Blair are confident that Qadaffi actually intends to keep his word.

Libya's announcement that it had been working on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons came as a surprise. U.S. and British intelligence had direct, verifiable knowledge of the existence of Libyan WMD, which U.S. officials said was bolstered by an interdiction carried out under the Proliferation Security Initiative, which allows the searching of planes and ships for banned weapons. It is thought that the interdiction under the PSI, which only became actionable in September, is what finally forced Libya's hand.

Hawks attribute Qadaffi's change of heart in part to the invasion of Iraq, and it does seem poignant that the announcement has come just after Hussein's capture. One of the reasons for invading Iraq was to send a message to other dictators who seek WMD that the U.S. will not stand idly by and let them do so, especially when the countries in question have a history of supporting international terrorism. If Qadaffi sticks to the agreement, and we have reasons to be optimistic that he will, then this is a great diplomatic and intelligence victory for the West. We should now hope that Qadaffi's call for other countries in the region to disarm will be heeded.

President Bush hailed this "wise and responsible choice", saying it "added to the security of all nations." He further declared "Should Libya pursue internal reform, America will be ready to help its people to build a more free and prosperous country". Dominique de Villepin claimed a success for the "entire international community" and stressed that "we are strong when the international community moves forward united" (although no country but Britain, Italy or the USA apparently played any part in the action, which the USA attributes to the resolve of the coalition of the willing in Iraq). Israel greeted the decision with relief, but Egypt's foreign minister cheekily declared "I hope that other countries in the region ... would follow such an example ... get rid of and put an end to any nuclear weapons production programme... You know, of course, who I mean."

Libya's statement follows.

Libyan statement on December 20, 2003

In view of the international environment that prevailed during the Cold War and the tension in the Middle East, the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah (GSPLAJ) has urged the countries in the region to make the Middle East and Africa a region free of the weapons of mass destruction.

As its calls have received no serious response, the GSPLAJ had sought to develop its defence capabilities.

Libyan experts have conducted talks with experts from the US and the UK on GSPLAJ activities in this field.

The Libyan experts showed their (US and UK) counterparts the substances, equipment and programmes that could lead to production of internationally banned weapons.

These are centrifuging machine and equipment to carry chemical substances.

According to the talks held between the GSPLAJ, the USA and the UK, which are two permanent members of the (UN) Security Council that is responsible for the preservation of international peace and security, Libya has decided, with its own free will, to get rid of these substances, equipment and programmes and to be free from all internationally banned weapons.

Libya has also decided to restrict itself to missiles with a range that comply with the standards of the MTCR surveillance system.

It will take all these measures in a transparent way that could be proved, including accepting immediate international inspection.

In addition to that, we confirm that (Libya) will abide by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the IAEA Safeguards Agreement and the Biological Weapons Convention as well as accepting the Additional Protocol of the IAEA Safeguards Agreement and the Biological and Chemical Weapons Treaty.

GSPLAJ believes that the arms race will neither serve its security nor the region's security and contradicts its (Libya's) great concern for a world that enjoys peace and security.

By taking this initiative, it wants all countries to follow its steps, starting with the Middle East, without any exception or double standards.