Cablegate: Libya's Chemical Weapons Destruction Chief Defends Extension Request
DE RUEHTRO #0795/01 2781540
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 051540Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5334
INFO RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE PRIORITY 0088
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 1173
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0844
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME PRIORITY 0624
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 5881
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000795
DEPT FOR NEA/MAG AND ISN/CBC (FERGUSON); NSC FOR MCDERMOTT E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/5/2019
TAGS: PARM PREL PGOV CWC OPCW LY
SUBJECT: LIBYA'S CHEMICAL WEAPONS DESTRUCTION CHIEF DEFENDS EXTENSION REQUEST REF: A) STATE 100809; B) TRIPOLI 490
CLASSIFIED BY: Joan Polaschik, CDA, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, U.S. Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1.(S/NF) Summary: Dr. Ahmed Hesnawy, head of Libya's chemical weapons destruction program, defended Libya's Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) extension request, arguing that a grassroots environmental campaign and civil defense concerns regarding possible accidents or leaks required additional time to meet Libya's obligations to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile and convert Rabta 1 and
2. Except for the alleged grassroots environmental movement, most of Hesnawy's argument seemed plausible. Hesnawy also provided a detailed update on Libya's progress. Plans are in place with the Italian company SIPSA to build the Rabta Toxic Chemicals Destruction Facility in time for destruction to commence November 1, and work is progressing with the company PharmChem on the Rabta conversion project. Hesnawy said he was prepared to deliver a detailed presentation of Libya's progress during the October 12 Executive Council session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Libya also briefed representatives of the French (jointly with post) and UK (separately) embassies here on its progress. End Summary.
HESNAWY JUSTIFIES EXTENSION REQUEST
2.(S) During a September 30 meeting, Pol/Econ Chief jointly delivered ref a demarche with French DCM to the head of the chemical weapons destruction program at Libya's National Chemical Weapons (CW) Authority, Dr. Ahmed Hesnawy. During the meeting, Hesnawy also provided a detailed briefing on his progress toward meeting Libya's Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) commitments. Libyan MFA International Organizations Officials Murat Humaima, and Tajouri Shiradi also attended the meeting.
3. (S) Hesnawy gave a long explanation of the reasons for the extension request, including resistance from the local community when construction work began at the building site for the Rabta Toxic Chemicals Destruction Facility. He explained that local residents complained about the idea of a CW destruction facility being built in their neighborhood and alerted environmental authorities to their concerns; then "all hell broke loose," he said. Hesnawy said that the "environmental agency" began asking tough questions regarding the emissions that would be released by the facility and requested verification of a number of control standards. Hesnawy bragged that he had successfully answered the questions and had come to an agreement with the agency. [Comment: Given tight Libyan Government controls over national security facilities and programs, we find it hard to believe that a grassroots movement could affect Libyan policy or action on a sensitive program such as the Rabta facility. End comment.]
3.(S/NF) Hesnawy then explained that the next problem he confronted was with the "civil defense people," who were concerned about securing the transfer of the chemical weapons and precursor materials from the storage to destruction sites. They demanded that emergency procedures be developed to ensure quick and appropriate response in the event of an accident or leak, which according to Hesnawy, has created additional delays. [Note: The UK DCM, who visited the storage facility earlier this year, told P/E Chief that the containers currently housing the material were in fact leaking when he observed them. End note.]
4.(S) On a positive note, Hesnawy reported that the ground at the site has been leveled, fencing and gates have been put in place, and water and energy sources have been built for the facility. A pipeline approximately 250 meters from the site will supply water from the Great Manmade River, and a power station about two kilometers away will support "an 11 kilo volt electricity line" to the facility.
UPDATE ON SIPSA WORK
5.(S) Hesnawy said that he had met with Italian company SIPSA September 29 (ref B) and emphasized the necessity of building the structure in an efficient way, to enable Libya to meet its CWC deadlines. By his estimation, since the destruction must commence on November 1, 2010, with the destruction of one-percent of the Libyan CW stock, the facility must be ready for operations by October 29, 2010. He thought that destruction of one-percent of the CW would take one day to complete. In order to meet those deadlines, Hesnawy and the SIPSA designers agreed that the facility should be composed of 90% steel, which TRIPOLI 00000795 002 OF 002 would provide for faster construction. Furthermore, they had decided that the foundation will consist of a single platform, rather than separate, individual platforms. Hesnawy exuberantly claimed to be "convinced that Libya can meet its deadlines~if there are no other delays." He said that his extension request was for a total of 5-6 months, and he believed that destruction of the precursors would be completed on schedule.
6.(S) Hesnawy explained that a Technical Secretariat (TS) team recently visited the sites and inspected the storage of the mustard gas and precursors, and they had agreed with his reasons for requesting the extension and destruction timeline.
RABTA CONVERSION PROGRAM
7.(S) Regarding the conversion of Rabta 1 and 2 facilities, he explained that the list of equipment submitted in the amendment request had been dictated by European rules, since the company that was working to convert the facility, PharmChem, was European and was designing the pharmaceutical plant according to EU standards.
REQUEST FOR SUPPORT
8.(S) Hesnawy requested U.S. support during the October 12 Executive Council session and in weighing in with European delegations. P/E Chief emphasized that transparency and timely reporting were absolutely essential to U.S. support for Libya's requests. Hesnawy claimed that he agreed and had always been an advocate of transparency and communication on such issues. He said that he would be delivering the explanation of the Libyan requests at the OPCW Executive Council session. The French DCM was silent throughout the briefing and said he would confer with the Elysee on the Libyan request for support.
UK EMBASSY WARNS OF HESNAWY'S CONFIDENCE
9.(S) In a separate meeting, xxxxxxxxxxxx told P/E Chief that while the MFA IO officer Tajouri Shiradi had made the same request for support for Libya's CWC requests, he did not provide as much detail on the progress of the Libyan program. xxxxxxxxxxxx expressed surprise that Hesnawy had met with us, relating that he was an elusive character who had not wanted to meet with him in the past, even though they had worked together when xxxxxxxxxxxx had served as part of the xxxxxxxxxxxx Delegation to the OPCW. xxxxxxxxxxxx described Hesnawy as xxxxxxxxxxxx and said that while part of the Libyan argument for the destruction deadline extension was credible, the other part was just talk.
10.(S/NF) Bio info: Hesnawy is a charismatic and gregarious character, who spoke fluent American English. He used American expressions and slang with ease and was clearly trying to endear himself to P/E Chief. He said that he has been head of Libya's Chemical Weapons Program for the last 12 years and was intimately aware of every technical detail relating to that program. According to xxxxxxxxxxxx, Hesnawy may be working with National Security Advisor, Muatassim al-Qadhafi, on missile purchase requests.
11.(S/NF) Comment: The Libyans made an effort to meet with us on short notice and were ready to provide detailed information about the status of their CWC commitments and requests. While most of the argument for the extension was plausible, certain aspects of Hesnawy's justification (i.e., protests from the local population) do not seem to fit with the Libyan political environment. The fact that we received significantly more access than the UK Embassy seems to indicate that the Libyan Government appreciates the importance of continued WMD progress to our bilateral relationship. End Comment. POLASCHIKJA