US plays down Libya WMD threat
The US State Department has expressed confidence that Libya's raw nuclear material and deadly chemicals are secure, trying to dispel fears that the near collapse of Muammar Gaddafi's regime means terrorists could get their hands on weapons of mass destruction.
In a statement, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the leaders of the rebel government in Libya, the Transitional National Council, had obligations to the international community as well as to their own people as they took control of the Arab country.
"We will look to them to ensure that Libya fulfils its treaty responsibilities, that it ensures that its weapons stockpiles do not threaten its neighbours or fall into the wrong hands, and that it takes a firm stand against violent extremism," Mrs Clinton said.
Raw nuclear material and chemicals aside, the fate of thousands of rockets is less clear.
US intelligence officials and counter-terrorism experts criticised slow work by State Department to locate and buy back dangerous munitions like the estimated 15,000 to 25,000 shoulder-fired missiles in Gaddafi's weapons stores.
Two US officials said the prices of such missiles in the region have fallen, suggesting that some of Gaddafi's weapons may already be reaching the market, though there is no sign that al Qaida-linked terrorists have managed to buy any.
That is feeding a debate within the administration over whether to devote more US resources, including manpower on the ground, to find and secure the potentially deadly or at the very least, lucrative, material.
The CIA has small teams of officers, backed by private US contractors with special operations experience helping to guide Libyan rebel fighters, according to two former US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters.
The Obama administration is considering whether to widen the role of those US intelligence teams to include hunting for Gaddafi's weapons arsenal, several officials said.
The administration has ruled out sending any US troops to Libya, and is resisting internal calls inside the intelligence and counter-terrorism community to expand the CIA's covert mission, two former US officials said.