LONDON — The senior British official paced his office as evening turned to night, every few minutes grabbing the telephone to dial Tripoli, the Libyan capital.
"Have they broadcast it yet?" he asked Anthony Layden, the British ambassador.
"There's a football match on television," Layden replied.
Three days earlier, Libya had agreed to give up its nuclear and chemical weapons programs in return for an end to economic sanctions, concluding months of secret negotiations with the British and Americans.
A script had been hammered out word by word in a marathon meeting. The Libyan foreign minister would announce the decision on national television and the country's leader, Moammar Kadafi, would follow with a brief, but mandatory, public endorsement.
The hours ticked by as British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush waited for the announcement. It was late 2003 and both needed this victory to stem increasing criticism over intelligence failures before the Iraq war.
"We were worrying that it was all going to get called off," said the British official, who recounted the episode on condition his name not be used. "It got later and later."
In recent interviews, participants in the three-way talks have provided the most detailed description yet of the events leading up to Libya's announcement, which marked a historic shift for what was considered an outlaw regime as it tried to win back its place within the world community.
Officials still disagree about exactly why Kadafi gave up the programs. Some information supports President Bush's contention that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the broader U.S. doctrine of pre-emptive strikes forced the Libyan leader to act.
But several British and U.S. officials said Kadafi had been trying for years to surrender the weapons to end the international sanctions crippling the Libyan economy and smooth the way for his eldest son's eventual assumption of power.
At a time when the Bush administration is talking tough about Iran's nuclear program, some diplomats say the mix of negotiations, good intelligence work and pressure brought to bear on Libya offers a game plan for dealing with Tehran.
When the soccer match finally ended on the night of Dec. 19, 2003, Libya's foreign minister, Mohammed Abderrahmane Chalgam, went on national television to announce that the country would disclose and dismantle its unconventional weapons programs.
Kadafi then appeared briefly to deliver his public blessing, calling it a "wise decision and a courageous step."
Shortly after 10 p.m. in London, Blair and Bush made separate public appearances to praise Kadafi's decision and promise to help Libya back into the community of nations.
In his office, the senior British official breathed a sigh of relief.
"It was a big prize," he said later. "We weren't sure until the end that it would actually work."
Within a month of the announcement, U.S. and British experts were swarming over the secret installations where Libya manufactured chemical weapons and had started work on a nuclear bomb. What they found would surprise and alarm them, and underscore just how big a prize they'd won.
The groundwork for Kadafi's decision was laid not only by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but by overtures from Libya to the U.S. and Britain that began in the late 1990s, according to officials from the three countries.
Libya approached the Clinton administration in 1999 with an offer to give up its chemical weapons program in exchange for an easing of the sanctions imposed because of its alleged support for terrorism, a former administration official said.
The U.S. refused, telling the Libyans that taking responsibility for the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 was a much higher priority, the former official said.
The British were more receptive. They reestablished diplomatic relations with Tripoli in July 1999. Libya turned over two intelligence officers implicated in the Lockerbie attack for trial by a Scottish court, and the U.S. and Britain agreed to push for a temporary lifting of U.N. sanctions.
One of the Libyan agents was convicted in January 2001, and momentum toward a final resolution of Lockerbie picked up in October 2001 when a delegation from Libya slipped into London to meet with British and U.S. officials, according to a participant in those talks.
The Libyan delegation was headed by Mousa Kusa, the head of external intelligence, who had been expelled from Britain nearly two decades earlier on suspicion of coordinating terrorist attacks.
The negotiations eventually led to Libya taking responsibility for the deaths of 259 people on the plane and 11 on the ground and agreeing to pay $2.7 billion to the relatives.
But U.S. and British participants said they had made it clear to the Libyans that resolving Lockerbie was not enough.