The Belgian government, under strong U.S. pressure, is leaning against a $1 billion nuclear cooperation agreement with Libya, government and European Community officials said today.
The Belgian Cabinet did not discuss the proposed agreement as expected during its regular Friday meeting, a government spokesman said. The question was discussed yesterday during a meeting of a special ministerial committee dealing with foreign policy, but no decision was made.
Belgian Prime Minister Wilfried Martens refused after the Cabinet meeting to comment on the government's position, but one European Community official involved in nuclear proliferation policy said, "My general feeling is that Belgium will not take a risk" by allowing Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi to obtain nuclear technology.
U.S. officials say any transfer of such technology to Qaddafi, even for civilian nuclear energy facilities as envisioned in the proposed deal with the government-controlled firm of Belgonucleaire, could ease the way for a Libyan nuclear bomb.
Several Belgian officials, who asked not to be identified, also said they believed the government was leaning against approval of the Libyan deal. "We don't trust Qaddafi," one official said.
The Belgian government is under heavy pressure from unions and businesses to go ahead with the lucrative nuclear cooperation agreement, officials said. According to the latest statistics, unemployment in Belgium stands at 15.6 percent, the second-highest rate in the European Community.
In a related development, Belgian and U.S. officials said earlier this week that the United States has sent Brussels a promised $700,000 check for a Belgian-made machine tool. Last month, the United States froze the payment when Belgium approved the export of five similar machines to the Soviet Union.