Lance Armstrong's meeting with an independent panel investigating cycling's doping past was welcomed by the World Anti-Doping Agency on Friday as a positive step in getting to the bottom of the drug culture which ravaged the sport.

Armstrong met with investigators for seven hours on May 22 at a hotel outside Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., according to Elliot Peters, an attorney for the American rider who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for doping.

WADA director general David Howman said the agency knew a meeting would take place but had no information about what was said, stressing that the Cycling Independent Reform Commission is doing its own work.

"It just shows the establishment of an independent commission was a useful device," Howman told The Associated Press. "To be fair, it's what Armstrong said all along — that if there would be an independent body he would go and talk to them."

"Credit's due all around," Howman added. "At least that discussion has occurred. That's very good"

Co-operation can lead to reduced penalties

Armstrong's willingness to talk to the commission has been seen as crucial in efforts to look into the International Cycling Union's handling of doping in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including whether former UCI officials covered up or were complicit in his doping.

"It's up to the CIRC and the information he actually gave," Howman said. "We're going to have to be patient and wait for them to complete their job."

The commission is chaired by Dick Marty, a Swiss politician and former Swiss state prosecutor. The other members are German anti-doping expert Ulrich Haas and Peter Nicholson, a former Australian military officer and war crimes investigator.

UCI President Brian Cookson has said that Armstrong's lifetime ban for doping could be reduced if he provides information which assists other doping investigations. Peters said Thursday that Armstrong did not ask for, and was not offered such a deal.

Howman said WADA would be told if there were moves to cut Armstrong's ban.

"They've got to complete their job before they start doing anything," he said. "We would hear if there were any suggestions of penalty changes and things like that, because that's where we have to be involved."

The UCI would not comment Friday on details of the investigation but said that, since the panel was formed in February, it has met with "a wide range of individuals and organizations."

Among those meeting with the commission have been "riders and members of their entourage, experts, sponsors, anti-doping agencies, UCI staff members and many others directly or indirectly involved in the sport of cycling," the UCI said in a statement to the AP.

"The CIRC also has full access to the UCI's files and electronic data which it is reviewing as part of its inquiry," it said.

Under the WADA code, athletes can have sanctions reduced if they provide "substantial assistance" to anti-doping investigators. The aim is to target any members of an athlete's entourage who may be involved in the doping.

American sprinter Tyson Gay received a reduced one-year suspension in May after cooperating with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's investigation, a decision accepted by WADA.

"This is the only way we can get information on the entourage," Howman said. "We've got to be strong about that. That's only with people coming forward. The whole idea is to allow reduction of penalties in those circumstances. We have the ability to scrutinize whether that should happen. We're doing that and I think we're doing it responsibly."

Howman dismissed calls by some athletes for imposition of lifetime bans for a serious first offense. WADA has doubled the penalty from two-year to four-year suspensions in the new doping code that goes into effect next year. Lifetime bans were deemed to be legally unenforceable.

"We have to be very sensible," Howman said. "We can't be emotional and we've got to follow that sort of legal advice."