Cablegate: Libyan Atomic Energy Head Elaborates On Funding Request for Nuclear Medicine Center
PP RUEHBC RUEHDH RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHTRO #0096/01 0341600
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 031559Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5761
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUEHUNV/USMISSION UNVIE VIENNA PRIORITY 0101
RUEHII/VIENNA IAEA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME PRIORITY 0673
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 6317
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000096
STATE FOR NEA/MAG AND ISN/CTR K. INSLEY AND DA BROWN; LONDON AND PARIS FOR NEA WATCHERS E.O. 12958: DECL: 2/3/2020
TAGS: KNNP AORC IAEA PGOV LY
SUBJECT: LIBYAN ATOMIC ENERGY HEAD ELABORATES ON FUNDING REQUEST FOR NUCLEAR MEDICINE CENTER REF: 09 TRIPOLI 886 TRIPOLI 00000096 001.2 OF 002
CLASSIFIED BY: Gene Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, U.S. Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1.(S/NF) Summary: During a January 27 meeting with the Ambassador, Dr. Ali Gashut, Head of the Libyan Atomic Energy Establishment, reiterated the GOL's keen interest in seeing the regional Nuclear Medicine Center (NMC) project completed. Recognizing the Department's funding constraints and acknowledging the GOL's long-standing commitment to cost-sharing, Gashut agreed to provide a letter quantifying GOL contributions to the project to-date. Gashut emphasized the progress on the NMC was important to the bilateral relationship, stating that that the Libyan Cabinet, MFA, and other government bodies were focused on the project and wanted to see it come to fruition as a model of bilateral engagement, a point we have heard repeatedly from senior officials, including Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi. Progress on the NMC could help jumpstart the relationship after months of crises. We urge the Department to consider alternative USG funding sources for the construction phase. End summary.
2.(C) On January 27, the Ambassador (accompanied by ISN/CTR Katherine Insley, P/E chief and econoff) met with Dr. Ali Gashut, Head of the Libyan Atomic Energy Establishment, who was accompanied by his deputy, Dr. Mohamed Ennami, to discuss bilateral engagement on scientist redirection programs and the establishment of a Regional Nuclear Medicine Center. At the outset, Gashut, the Embassy's primary point of contact on scientist engagement activities, said the Libyans were not happy with the lack of progress on the regional Nuclear Medicine Center (NMC), a project that he and his staff had been working on for the last five years. However, he sensed that the Ambassador and the USG were acting in goodwill to move the project forward and characterized the NMC as the "fruit of the good work we have been doing together for the last five years," beginning with the signing of the "Sister Lab" agreement in 2006. Gashut stated that in working together "as one team," we can overcome the problem of funding that was standing in the way of progress, and pledged, "We will find a way to help you come up with the money necessary to begin to implement the project."
3.(C) The Ambassador told Gashut that in order for the USG to authorize the USG-funded Architecture and Engineering (A&E) design work to begin, a letter from the Libyan side was necessary, outlining Libya's commitment to work in partnership on the NMC and quantifying the Libyan contributions to the project. He said that the letter Gashut sent to ISN/CTR in December 2009, which reiterated Libya's expectation that the U.S. would fully fund the NMC as a "reward" for Libya's decision to give ups its WMD program had been unhelpful and only served to stall progress on the project. Gashut said he understood the U.S. position and indicated that the language was included for "political" reasons.
4. (C) Referring to his meeting the previous day with ISN/CTR visiting officials (septel), Gashut recognized ISN's funding limitations and indicated Libya would agree to a cost-sharing approach, which took into account the monetary value of the contributions that Libya had already made to the project. Gashut said that "It's always been understood that we have a part to play; we want to show the Libyan people and the international community that we have benefited from this WMD decision by completing this program." He agreed to provide a letter reiterating Libya's commitment to work in partnership with the United States to build the NMC and to quantify in that letter the in-kind contributions that Libya had already invested in the project, such as the costs of land, staff salaries, office space and the conversion of lab facilities for NMC functions. Gashut noted that the GOL had designated 1.5 hectares of land (approximately 5 acres) in a prime location, close to the Tripoli International Airport, for the NMC site.
5.(C) Gashut characterized the Libyan side as "extremely energetic" about completing the project, stating that "everyone in the Cabinet, MFA and government" were committed to moving forward on the NMC in partnership with the U.S. Gashut emphasized that the Libyan leadership was very focused on the NMC. He said that, "The MFA sees this project as an opportunity to open new doors of cooperation. The Cabinet feels this project will show real intent and will on the U.S.-side to move forward with cooperation." The NMC would also serve as a model for other countries, which were still hesitant about giving up their WMD programs. It would be a convincing tool to promote nuclear nonproliferation and the spread of civilian nuclear programs. TRIPOLI 00000096 002.2 OF 002
6.(C) In Gashut's view, some progress on building the NMC -- such as beginning A&E design work -- will make a huge, positive impact on the bilateral relationship and will change for the better the approach that Libyan leadership has had toward us. He noted that many government officials were arguing for deeper engagement with the U.S., and they wanted the NMC project to be a foundation for their argument to win out over the views of the skeptics: "In Libya at least 4,000 people have graduated from U.S. universities, and many of them are in influential positions. This is a big plus for bilateral relations."
7.(S/NF) The Ambassador reaffirmed the U.S. desire to increase engagement in all areas of the bilateral relationship, including moving forward on the NMC project. Acknowledging that we have had problems over the last year that set back the relationship -- including the GOL's unexpected delay on shipment of Libya's highly enriched uranium spent nuclear fuel, in which Gashut had been involved -- the Ambassador expressed his intention to devote the second year of his tenure developing stronger relationships with Libyan leadership, so that when crises arise, both sides could work together to move past them. He listed the current freeze on visas for official U.S. travelers among the crises that we were currently facing, which must be resolved in order to put the bilateral relationship back on a steady path. By contrast, the Ambassador highlighted the positive momentum of the NMC project, which offered an opportunity to jumpstart the normalization process with Libya.
8.(C) In addition to the NMC project, Gashut expressed GOL interest in signing a bilateral cooperative agreement on the peaceful applications of nuclear energy. He reviewed two approaches the Libyans had made to the USG on this proposal, first in 2008 prior to the visit of then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and then during National Security Advisor Muatassim al-Qadhafi's April 2009 visit to Washington, when the Libyan Embassy submitted a draft agreement to the Department. Gashut said that Libya sought U.S. support for its plans to build the first nuclear power plant in the country: "We need your assistance so that both sides can benefit from these developments."
9.(S/NF) Comment: Post sees great value in moving ahead quickly on the Nuclear Medicine Center project. Senior Libyan officials -- including Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi and Foreign Minister Musa Kusa -- have repeatedly raised the issue, hinting that the perceived lack of progress has threatened continued normalization of the bilateral relationship. From the Libyans' perspective, progress on the project -- including new USG funding arrangements that go beyond the initial A&E design phase -- would be a tangible sign of the U.S. commitment to bilateral engagement that could help jumpstart the relationship after several months of crisis. The GOL will not give Gashut's team the funds to pay for construction of the NMC. We strongly urge the Department to explore alternative USG funding sources to support those construction costs. End comment. CRETZ