Iran may have supplied former Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi’s government with artillery shells for chemical weapons that have been kept secret for years, according to a Washington Post report published on Monday.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Washington Post that shells filled with toxic mustard agent were found in two central Libya locations by interim government fighters in recent weeks.
The sites are now being guarded and and are under 24-hour surveillance by drones, according to U.S. and Libyan officials.
The U.S. government is investigating where the shells originally came from.
Sources say that there are suspicions the shells were originally from Iran, according to the Washington Post report.
“We are pretty sure we know” the shells were produced by Iran for Libya, the Washington Post quoted one senior U.S. official as saying.
Another U.S. official with access to classified information told the Washington Post there were “serious concerns” the shells had come from Iran a number of years ago.
Yet another U.S. official spoke about the secret conditions under which the shells were kept. Gadhafi’s government was “sitting on stuff that was not secure, and the world did not know about it.”
“There were no seals and no inventories” by international inspectors, the official said.
In an e-mail to the Washington Post, Mohammed Javad Larijani, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denied that Iran had provided Libya with the shells, saying “I believe such comments are being fabricated by the U.S. to complete their project of Iranophobia in the region and all through the world. Surely this is another baseless story for demonizing [the] Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Larijani is also the brother of Iran’s former negotiator on nuclear issues.
Anxieties about Iran's nuclear program increased after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released intelligence last week suggesting Iran has undertaken research and experiments geared to developing a nuclear weapons capability.
Iran, which denies it wants nuclear weapons, has condemned the findings of the Vienna-based IAEA as "unbalanced" and "politically motivated."
The report increased tensions in the Middle East and led to redoubled calls in Western capitals for stiffer sanctions against Iran. Last year, the U.S. Congress approved sanctions that targeted Iran's energy and banking sectors, threatening to penalize foreign companies that did business with Tehran.
Those sanctions took particular aim at Iran's ability to refine crude oil into petroleum products such as gasoline.
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