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Cheney: Saddam working on nuclear weapons

Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States has to worry about possible ties between Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.
Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States has to worry about possible ties between Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has evidence that Saddam Hussein is working on a nuclear weapons program, according to Vice President Dick Cheney, who warned of a "possible marriage" between the Iraqi leader and terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda.

In an interview with CNN's John King, Cheney said Saddam has pressed ahead with developing weapons of mass destruction since U.N. weapons inspectors last visited Iraq in 1998.

"He's been free -- and we know he has -- to continue to improve his chemical weapons capability," Cheney said in the interview, broadcast Monday. "We know he has worked to and has succeeded in improving his biological weapons capability. And we're confident that he has also begun, once again, to try to acquire a nuclear weapon."

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The vice president said nuclear technicians are "still in Iraq" and that Saddam is working on what Cheney called "fissile material."

Cheney has been at the forefront of the Bush administration efforts to rally Congress and the international community against Saddam's regime. That effort will be amplified when President Bush goes before the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday and outlines his case against the Iraqi leader.

Complicating the administration's efforts to win support for a military strike against Iraq is the question of U.N. weapons inspectors. The United States accuses Iraq of trying to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in violation of U.N. resolutions dating back to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Bush administration officials question the value of more weapons inspectors, noting Saddam has blocked them in the past and likely would foil such efforts again, even if the inspectors were allowed into Iraq. But several U.S. allies say there should be a renewed U.N. weapons inspection effort before any military action.

"I obviously, based on the past history, am a skeptic," Cheney said of the value of further U.N. inspections. "Inspectors were in there for seven years and worked for seven years, and they did a lot of good work. But they didn't get everything."

The vice president said Bush has not made a decision yet on what to do about Iraq, but he emphasized the administration's belief that some kind of action is necessary.

"He is bound and determined that we will address this issue," Cheney said. "We have to deal with the emerging threat. The question is how best to do it. And we'd like to have the support of the international community as we move forward here."

Cheney said last year's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington underscore the threat facing the United States.

"We have to be concerned now about the possibility that we're vulnerable to an attack the likes of which we did not experience prior to last September 11 -- with a far more deadly weapon," Cheney said. "We have to worry about the possible marriage, if you will, of a rogue state like Saddam Hussein's Iraq with a terrorist organization like al Qaeda."

Al Qaeda, blamed for orchestrating the 9/11 attacks, is headed by Osama bin Laden, who is the subject of a massive manhunt, but Cheney conceded the United States doesn't know whether he's dead or alive.

"It's been several months since we had a solid report on his presence. ... We just don't know," Cheney said.




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