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Sources: No new evidence of Iraq nuclear threat

Sources say Baghdad may be years from making a device

Sources: No new evidence of Iraq nuclear threat

Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. sources with knowledge of Iraq's military capabilities said they are unaware of new information about the Baghdad government's efforts to develop nuclear weapons but added that United States intelligence may be reassessing that threat.

President Bush hinted Wednesday that the urgency behind recent calls for a "regime change" in Iraq are based on signs that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has not made good on promises to disarm and disavow weapons of mass destruction -- assurances dating back to the end of the Persian Gulf War.

Bush summoned top lawmakers to the White House on Wednesday and told them that he would "seek approval" from Congress "at the appropriate time" on what to do about Saddam.

The Bush administration has accused the Iraqi leader of amassing weapons of mass destruction in violation of U.N. resolutions ending the Gulf War.

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Sources said they would not rule out the possibility that the White House may ask for a new assessment of any Iraqi nuclear threat.

The Bush administration has suggested that Iraq may soon develop a nuclear bomb. But multiple sources in the U.S. government said they believe Iraq is years away from having a nuclear device unless the country receives outside help. Most of these sources also said they know of no specific intelligence that would lead to a new timetable assessment.

Sources said the intelligence community is struggling with the question of whether Iraq has hidden fissile material that could be used in a weapon, or hidden uranium enrichment technology that could be used to make weapons-grade nuclear fuel.

There also is concern that Iraq's nuclear weapons design team may have made progress in refining its weapons design. But again, sources said substantial progress would have required outside help.

Report refers to pilotless planes

The latest published assessment from the CIA is believed to be the freshest analysis of Iraq's military resources. Initially distributed to the White House and members of Congress and released publicly in January, the report refers to several weapons systems and equipment considered a threat -- including Iraqi drones, or pilotless planes, that could be used to deliver biological or chemical agents.

The CIA described them as "refurbished trainer aircraft [that] are believed to have been modified for delivery of chemical or, more likely, biological warfare agents."

But U.S. officials in January said that the drones would not be particularly effective because of problems delivering such agents. One source suggested Saddam is "kidding himself" if he expects to kill large numbers of people using the planes for chemical or biological warfare.

Nonetheless, officials acknowledged that Iraq is likely to have such planes, and that it is serious that they should even try to deploy them in such a manner.




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