This month, the United States helped take control of Libya's stockpiles of chemical weapons and shut down its nuclear bomb program.
All of sudden, Moammar Gadhafi, the bad boy of the Middle East, doesn't seem so bad anymore. What's with the stunning turnaround? Why has he come clean all of a sudden?
60 Minutes II went to Libya to find out, and we met one of the driving forces behind the change. His name is Gadhafi -- not Moammar the leader, but Seif, the son.
And he's got big plans to transform Libya from a Middle-East pariah to an international powerbroker. Correspondent Vicki Mabrey reports.
"We have to be the spearhead of all positive changes in the Middle East, in cooperation with the rest of the world," says Seif Gadhafi.
His father, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, made Libya one of the world's most notorious state sponsors of terrorism. He built an arsenal of chemical weapons, and was well on his way to a nuclear bomb. But recently, Seif Gadhafi – with a nod from his father – helped broker a deal to give it all up.
"There's a feeling, I think, from some in the United States government that Libya saw the Iraq war and said, 'Whoa. We could be next,'" Mabrey tells Gadhafi.
"I think there is no foundation for that statement," responds Seif Gadhafi. "First of all, we started negotiating before the beginning of the war. And it's not because we are afraid or under the American pressure or blackmail."
Nine months of secret talks led weapons experts to exactly what the Bush Administration would have loved to find in Iraq -- the largest chemical weapons factory in the developing world, a secret plant called al-Rabta. It was once seen only from U.S. spy satellites, but this time, 60 Minutes II went there.
Government guides drove us out into the hills, to a place even they had a hard time finding, and journalists had never been allowed to see. Al-Rabta is 60 miles from Tripoli, hidden in the desert behind a mountain of sandbags. The only access is through a tunnel in the sand.
When you emerge on the other side, you see what Libya had been hiding: a large-scale, covert chemical plant.
Abdulsalem Elwaer is a chemist who has been in charge since 1994. He said he'd give 60 Minutes II the same tour he gave the American and British weapons experts when they came last month.
"They have inspected everything. All the rooms. We opened all the doors. They checked everything," says Elwaer.
What they saw was millions of dollars worth of equipment that Elwaer says will be used to make medicine. But last week, the Libyan government admitted that it once made more than 20 tons of deadly mustard gas here, and shells for more than 3,300 chemical bombs.
"The chemical weapons program in Libya produced a stockpile of chemical agent. They have that stockpile of chemical agent. It's now been secured," says Ambassador Don Mahley, a retired Army colonel who heads the U.S. weapons team now working there. He's the first American diplomat in Libya in decades.
Is the contentious history between the United States and Libya over?
"I don't know. Certainly, I think that the concern that the United States and other countries have had about Libya as a rogue state in the weapons of mass destruction, I think that's gone," says Mahley.
What's also gone is Gadhafi's multi-million-dollar quest to build a nuclear bomb.
The Tajura nuclear reactor, just outside Tripoli, is where his nuclear scientists cut their teeth. It's a small research reactor, used for medical purposes. But it was also the training ground for Libya's bomb makers, even though the director of the center, Ali Gashut, was reluctant to admit it.
"This is the only place we have in Libya – the Tajura Research Center – for training people in the application of nuclear energy," says Gashut. "This is the technical school."
It's a technical school that graduated some of its scientists to this facility for enriching uranium. It's called the Hashan site – and it's another one of Libya's dirty little secrets, hidden on the outskirts of Tripoli.
Pictures taken by the Libyans two years ago, and never seen before in public, show Gadhafi's dream in the making: There are centrifuges for making bomb fuel, and warhead designs from Pakistan, all obtained on the black market.
Now, all the parts have been boxed up. The last of them are on their way to the United States, never to pose a threat again.
How far along was Libya in its nuclear capabilities?
"The components that Libya had acquired were components that provided a full up capability to proceed to a nuclear weapon. And certainly, they had the information for intent, in terms of how to take the material that they might have been able to produce, and turn it into a weapon," says Mahley.
"Libya now is a safe country. And I think we are safer without those items," says Seif Gadhafi.
Safer, and potentially much richer. Libya's economy has been stagnating since the U.S. imposed sanctions in 1986 – after Gadhafi was blamed for several terrorist attacks. Two years later, the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 270 people and isolated Libya even further.
But two years ago, Gadhafi appointed Shokri Ghanem to turn things around. An American-educated economist, Ghanem is Gadhafi's new prime minister. His first priority is to get rid of the sanctions, which meant getting rid of Libya's weapons of mass destruction.
"They are not making it safe. They are making us poorer, and having more troubled relations. So … we decided to concentrate our way on our economy. To spend this money on butter rather than guns," says Ghanem.
Giving up the guns – and the bombs – was an American requirement before even beginning to talk about lifting sanctions. But Washington first demanded the Libyans settle Lockerbie. So last year, Shokri Ghanem and Seif Gadhafi helped negotiate a $2.7 billion settlement with the Lockerbie families.
"It's better to come from the cold than staying in the cold," says Ghanem. "So, you know, I don't want to stay in the cold."
Seif Gadhafi may be the most important link between the past and the future.
But of all the Libyans that 60 Minutes II met, you might expect Seif Gadhafi to have the strongest reasons for hating the United States.
On April 15, 1986, in retaliation for an attack on a Berlin disco that killed two U.S. soldiers, President Reagan launched an airstrike on Tripoli, which included the Gadhafi compound.
Two of Seif's brothers were badly injured, and his 2-year-old sister died. Seif, then 14, with his arms in bandages, was paraded before cameras the next week.
Seif Gadhafi took us back to that site when we met up with him in Tripoli. It's become a shrine.
The house has been left in pretty much the same condition. But being there with Gadhafi's son 18 years later, we couldn't help but wonder: Is the new Gadhafi sincere? Is it possible to leave behind a conflict that has been so bitter, and so personal? Can forgiveness be given to the people who did this?
"I'm not thinking a lot about forgiveness because I accepted that attack, by the way. I accepted it, because we were at war and they had the right to attack us, and we had the right to attack them," says Seif Gadhafi.
"It was a war, and if you are in war you have to accept the rules of the game. And the rules of the game are you have to receive bombs, and you have to send bombs. It was a war."
The new Libyan leaders want us all to believe there's been a change of heart.
But some in Washington are suspicious, especially after the prime minister said recently Libyans weren't to blame for Pan Am 103, after all -- and that the billion-dollar settlement was really about "buying peace," a statement that he later retracted.
So why should the United States now trust Libya? "You can ask a question like this to anyone," says Ghanem. "Why you trust this man? Will you buy a secondhand car from him? I think they should trust us, because they know that we are genuine. We know they have to trust us because we voluntarily came and said, 'Now we want to abide by the regulations.'"
Open the doors, play by the rules, and look at what they stand to gain. If U.S. sanctions are lifted, American oil companies will pour in. The Libyans have so much oil that Gadhafi can all but sit back and let it flow while the new guard takes Libya in a once-unthinkable direction.
"We can be very useful for the Americans. And we can help them, they can help us," says Seif Gadhafi. "We can fight together terrorism. We can bring prosperity and peace in Africa and the Middle East. And we can make peace together."
Copyright 2004 CBS. All rights reserved.