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Pentagon: Nuclear review not a guide to U.S. plans

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon said late Saturday that a list of countries that could be targeted for U.S. nuclear attacks under certain circumstances is a "wide-ranging analysis" mandated by Congress and "does not provide operational guidance" on possible nuclear targets.

The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that the compilation, called a nuclear posture review listing, said nuclear weapons could be used against Libya, Syria, China, Russia, Iran, Iraq and North Korea in certain situations as part of military contingency plans. It was the latest classified review, provided to Congress in January, and provided by the Bush administration.

Asked about the report, a Pentagon spokesman said, "We will not discuss the classified details of military planning or contingencies, nor will we comment on selective and misleading leaks."

However, in a statement, the Pentagon noted the review is required by law and "is the latest in a long series of reviews since the development of nuclear weapons."

"It does not provide operational guidance on nuclear targeting or planning," the statement said. "The Department of Defense continues to plan for a broad range of contingencies and unforeseen threats to the United States and its allies. We do so in order to deter such attacks in the first place."

There was no response to the newspaper's report from the White House, and no indication whether the copy of the report obtained by the Times was a final or a draft version.

Congressionally mandated nuclear posture reviews are conducted every six years.

Threat predictions

Nuclear targeting discussions have been a part of U.S. military strategy for some time, but analysts told CNN that the Times' list, if accurate, was the first time an official list has come to light.

According to the Times report, nuclear weapons could be used against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack, in retaliation for attacks by nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, or "in the event of surprising military developments."

Pentagon officials briefing reporters on the review in January indicated a lessening reliance on the massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons as a deterrent to attack. They said that findings called for increasing reliance on precision-guided weapons to deter attacks.

They said the classified nuclear posture review showed that because of improvements in precision-guided weaponry -- as demonstrated in the war in Afghanistan -- the U.S. military can now rely more on powerful, highly accurate conventional bombs and missiles.

Also in January, the U.S. intelligence community issued a report projecting that before 2015 "the United States most likely will face ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) threats from North Korea, and Iran and possibly from Iraq -- barring significant changes in their political orientations."

Bush named those three nations as an "axis of evil" during his State of the Union address earlier this year.

The unclassified report by the National Intelligence Council also predicted that Chinese ballistic missile forces will "increase sevenfold" by 2015 -- rising to between 75-100 warheads deployed.


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