Britain sends officials to Libya to help destroy chemical weapons
Britain is sending officials to to help the government to investigate the scale of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's secret chemical weapons stockpile, retained by the Libyan dictator in breach of promises made to the international community.
The size of the stockpile – including mustard gas – suggests Gaddafi totally misled when he promised to destroy weapons of mass destruction in return for being brought back in from the diplomatic cold in 2004.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported a week ago that the National Transitional Council had informed it .
Foreign Office sources suggested the weapons stockpile was much larger than had been thought, and covered more than one site.
David Cameron made reference to the hidden stockpile in his speech at the Lord Mayor's banquet. He said: "Although Gaddafi agreed to declare and dismantle all his weapons of mass destruction and although we made real progress diminishing the threat he posed, in the last few days we have learnt that the new Libyan authorities have found chemical weapons that were kept hidden from the world".
The OPCW team was despatched to Libya initially because it feared the Nato air campaign might have destabilised mustard gas known to be held in the south-east of the country.
It was the first visit to Libya by the OPCW since February 2011. When Libya joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2004, it was required to declare all chemical warfare materials, and once the OPCW confirmed the declaration, to destroy them.
The former Libyan government declared possession of 25 metric tonnes of bulk mustard agent and 1,400 metric tonnes of precursor chemicals, which are used to make chemical weapons. It also declared more than 3,500 unfilled aerial bombs designed for use with chemical warfare agents such as sulphur mustard, and three chemical weapons production facilities.
The Foreign Office said it was waiting to see the scale to which Gaddafi misled the international community, but one source said the find was big.
At the weekend Blair, speaking on BBC's Andrew Marr Show, defended the British rapprochement with Gaddafi on the basis that he had abandoned his weapons of mass destruction.